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Legal Ethics Rules Challenged

July 31, 2001

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Lawyers could keep fewer secrets on behalf of their clients under proposed changes to legal ethics rules followed by most of the profession.

New rules under discussion within the legal profession would free lawyers from some current ethical constraints, such as a duty not to divulge attorney-client conversations to police or other authorities unless keeping silent would result in death or serious injury.

At the present time, a lawyer is not supposed to tattle on a client who is earning money illegally, but could report plans for a murder. Under the proposed rules, a lawyer could come forward to prevent a client from committing a crime that the lawyer is reasonably certain would result in death or grave injury.

The American Bar Association will begin debating an overhaul of the legal ethics code at its annual meeting, which begins later this week in Chicago.

Lawyers who drafted the proposed update of ethic guidelines say they reflect changes in the legal profession and could benefit the public by allowing lawyers to reveal risks of injury or fraud.

Several lawyers who oppose the proposed changes plan to challenge them during the ABA meeting. The opponents say less privacy between lawyer and client undermines the basic concept that a person should feel comfortable that information that he or she shares with a lawyer will be kept confidential.

The ABA probably will not actually vote on the rules, four years in the drafting, at this summer’s meeting. A final vote is more likely at the 400,000-lawyer organization’s winter gathering in Philadelphia next year.

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