Feb. 27, 2007
Law Professor Raymond Touts Legal Ethics
Margaret Raymond's business card doesn't say "legal ethics consultant," but it could.
"When my students graduate, I give them my card and tell them to call if they're confronted with an ethical issue they need to talk about," said Raymond, a legal ethicist and professor of law at the University of Iowa College of Law. The phone rings frequently, she says, as young attorneys fully realize how ethically fraught their profession is and that even the smallest decision can have wide ranging ethical ramifications.
"The first thing they say is that ethics matters more in their practices than they ever thought it would when they were students," she said. "What encourages me is that their radar is spot-on. They know what the right answer is, they know what's ethical and responsible, they're just looking for someone they can talk it through with. I'm happy to be that person."
Raymond has taught legal ethics at the UI law school for 12 years, preparing hundreds of graduates for the ethical challenges they will face as practicing attorneys. In addition, she provides a legal ethics service to practicing attorneys throughout the state, having served on the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct Drafting Committee that helped to craft the current legal ethics code, and currently serving on the Rules Monitoring Committee that provides ongoing guidance to the court on ethics rules and related issues.
Raymond also teaches legal ethics at Continuing Legal Education seminars around the state, including one this Friday at the Iowa Academy of Trial Lawyers conference in Des Moines.
Raymond first started studying ethics as a law student, when she was disappointed by a legal ethics and responsibility curriculum that she felt gave short shrift to the topic. Her ongoing research explores the gray areas inherent in legal ethics and how to think through issues that are rarely cut-and-dried.
"There are a lot of ethical questions that are not up for discussion," she said. "You don't steal money from your client. You don't tell your family at the dinner table about the crazy client you met with that afternoon. But ethical issues in the law are rarely that black-and-white, and that's what makes them so fascinating. So much of it depends on context; something that might be ethical and responsible in one situation won't be in another similar situation."
In her current CLE seminars, Raymond focuses on new professional responsibility rules for attorneys adopted by the Iowa Supreme Court in 2005, using hypothetical situations to help attorneys think through the application of the rules. The rule changes she focuses on concern new disclosure requirements for attorneys who reasonably believe disclosure is necessary to prevent imminent death or substantial bodily harm, guidelines for attorneys representing both parties in a transaction, and more detailed specifications for what should appear in a written contingency fee agreement between an attorney and client.
"These are just to give people some highlights from the new rules because we don't have time to discuss the entire thing," said Raymond, holding up a three-ring binder thick with pages. "No practicing attorney has the time to read the entire code of ethics. They read what applies to them when they need guidance."
Raymond said she knows that the concept of legal ethics is good joke fodder for late-night TV show hosts, but the profession takes the issue seriously and most lawyers strive to maintain the highest standards of ethical and responsible behavior. Lawyers must take legal ethics seminars every year to keep their license, and law schools must require graduates to take ethics courses to keep their accreditation. Raymond concedes it's an uphill battle to convince people of that, but she hopes her commitment to training ethical attorneys has small effects that will, ultimately, add up.
"I'm never going to persuade the world at once, but when one of my students provides a client with excellent representation in an ethical and responsible manner, that will make an impact," she said. "I hope to convince people one client at a time."
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.
MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010, firstname.lastname@example.org.