United States District Court

Northern District Of Illinois

Local Rules

LR83.50.1. Rules of Professional Conduct

LR83.50.1 through LR83.58.9 are the rules of professional conduct for the Northern District of Illinois. The rules have been numbered to permit a ready identification of the comparable rule in the ABA Model Rules. The ABA Model Rules run from 1.1 through 8.5. The local rules are of the form LR83.5x.x where the x.x part of the rule number is the same as the comparable ABA Model Rule.

Committee Comment. Preamble to Rules of Professional Conduct. The practice of law is a public trust. Lawyers are the trustees of the system by which citizens resolve disputes among themselves, punish and deter crime, and determine their relative rights and responsibilities toward each other and their government. Lawyers therefore are responsible for the character, competence and integrity of the persons whom they assist in joining their profession; for assuring access to that system through the availability of competent legal counsel, for maintaining public confidence in the system of justice by acting competently and with loyalty to the best interests of their clients; by working to improve that system to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing society; and by defending the integrity of the judicial system against those who would corrupt, abuse or defraud it.

To achieve these ends the practice of law is regulated by the following rules. Violation of these rules is grounds for discipline. No set of prohibitions, however, can adequately articulate the positive values or goals sought to be advanced by those prohibitions. This preamble therefore seeks to articulate those values in much the same way as did the former canons set forth in the Code of Professional Responsibility. Lawyers seeking to conform their conduct to the requirements of these rules should look to the values described in this preamble for guidance in interpreting the difficult issues which may arise under the rules.

The policies which underlie the various rules may, under certain circumstances, be in some tension with each other. Wherever feasible, the rules themselves seek to resolve such conflicts with clear statements of duty. For example, a lawyer must disclose, even in breach of a client confidence, a client's intent to commit a crime involving a serious risk of bodily harm. In other cases, lawyers must carefully weigh conflicting values, and make decisions, at the peril of violating one or more of the following rules. Lawyers are trained to make just such decisions, however, and should not shrink from the task. To reach correct ethical decisions, lawyers must be sensitive to the duties imposed by these rules and, whenever practical, should discuss particularly difficult issues with their peers.

Timely, affordable counsel is essential if disputes are to be avoided and, when necessary, resolved. Basic rights have little meaning without access to the judicial system which vindicates them. Effective access to that system often requires the assistance of counsel.

It is the responsibility of those licensed as officers of the court to use their training, experience and skills to provide services in the public interest for which compensation may not be available. It is the responsibility of those who manage law firms to create an environment that is hospitable to the rendering of a reasonable amount of uncompensated service by lawyers practicing in that firm.

Service in the public interest many take many forms. These include but are not limited to pro bono representation of persons unable to pay for legal services and assistance in the organized bar’s efforts at law reform. An individual lawyer’s efforts in these areas is evidence of the lawyer’s good character and fitness to practice law, and the efforts of the bar as a whole are essential to the bar’s maintenance of professionalism.

The absence from these rules of ABA Model Rule 6.1 regarding pro bono and public service therefore should not be interpreted as limiting the responsibility of attorneys to render uncompensated service in the public interest. Rather, the rationale for the absence of ABA Model Rule 6.1 is that this concept is not appropriate for a disciplinary code, because an appropriate disciplinary standard regarding pro bono and public service is difficult, if not impossible, to articulate. That ABA Model Rule 6.1 itself uses the word “should” instead of “shall” in describing this duty reflects the uncertainty of the ABA on this issue.

The quality of the legal profession can be no better than that of its members. Lawyers must exercise good judgment and candor in supporting applicants for membership in the bar.

Lawyers also must assist in the policing of lawyer misconduct. The vigilance of the bar in preventing and, where required, reporting misconduct can be a formidable deterrent to such misconduct, and a key to maintaining public confidence in the integrity of the profession as a whole in the face of the egregious misconduct of a few.

Legal services are not a commodity, rather, they are the result of the efforts, training, judgment and experience of the members of a learned profession. These rules reflect the sensitive task of striking a balance between making available useful information regarding the availability and merits of lawyers and the need to protect the public against deceptive or overreaching practices. All communications with clients and potential clients should be consistent with these values.

The lawyer-client relationship is one of trust and confidence. Such confidence can be maintained only if the lawyer acts competently and zealously pursues the client’s interests within the bounds of the law. “Zealously” does not mean mindlessly or unfairly or oppressively. Rather, it is the duty of all lawyers to seek resolution of disputes at the least cost in time, expense and trauma to all parties and to the courts.

Scope of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The rules of professional conduct are rules of reason. They should be interpreted with reference to the purposes of legal representation and of the law itself. Some of the rules are imperatives, cast in the terms “shall” or “shall not.” These define proper conduct for purposes of professional discipline. Others, cast in the term “may,” are permissive and define areas under the rules in which the lawyer has professional discretion. Nonetheless, a lawyer is subject to discipline when the lawyer’s action or failure to act is outside the bounds of permissible discretion. Other rules define the nature of relationships between lawyers and others. The rules are thus partly obligatory and partly constitutive and descriptive in that they define a lawyer’s professional role. Many of the Comments use the term “should.” Comments do not add an obligation to the rules but provide guidance for practicing in compliance with the rules.

The rules presuppose a larger legal context shaping the lawyer’s role. That context includes court rules and statutes relating to matters of licensure, laws defining specific obligations of lawyers and substantive and procedural law in general. Compliance with the rules, as with all law in an open society, depends upon understanding and voluntary compliance, secondarily upon reinforcement by peer and public opinions and finally, when necessary, upon enforcement through disciplinary proceedings. The rules do not, however, exhaust the moral and ethical considerations that should inform the lawyer, for no worthwhile human activity can be completely defined by legal rules. The rules simply provide a framework for the ethical practice of law.

Furthermore, for purposes of determining the lawyer’s authority and responsibility, principles of substantive law external to these rules determine whether a client-lawyer relationship exists. Most of the duties flowing from the client-lawyer relationship attach only after the client has requested the lawyer to render legal services and the lawyer has agreed to do so. But there are some duties, such as that of confidentiality under LR83.51.6, that may attach when the lawyer agrees to consider whether a client-lawyer relationship shall be established. Whether the client-lawyer relationship exists for any specific purpose can depend on the circumstances and may be a question of fact.

Under various legal provisions, including constitutional, statutory and common law, the responsibilities of government lawyers may include authority concerning legal matters that ordinarily reposes in the client in private client-lawyer relationships. For example, a lawyer for a government agency may have the authority on behalf of the government to decide upon settlement or whether to appeal from an adverse judgment. Such authority in various respects is generally vested in the attorney general and the state's attorney in state government, and their federal counterparts, and the same may be true of other government law officers. Also, lawyers under the supervision of these officers may be authorized to represent several government agencies in intragovernmental legal controversies in circumstances where a private lawyer could not represent multiple private clients. They also may have authority to represent the “public interest” in circumstances where a private lawyer would not be authorized to do so. These rules do not abrogate any such authority.

Failure to comply with an obligation or prohibition imposed by a rule is a basis for invoking the disciplinary process. The rules presuppose that disciplinary assessment of a lawyer’s conduct will be made on the basis of the facts and circumstances as they existed at the time of the conduct in question and in recognition of the fact that a lawyer often has to act upon uncertain or incomplete evidence of the situation. Moreover, the rules presuppose that whether or not discipline should be imposed for a violation, and the severity of a sanction, depend on all the circumstances, such as the willfulness and seriousness of the violation, extenuation factors and whether there have been previous violations.

The Comment accompanying each rule explains and illustrates the meaning and purpose of the rule. The Preamble at the beginning of this Comment and this note on Scope provide general orientation. The Comments are intended as guides to interpretation, but the text of each rule is authoritative.