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Researching Legal Ethics & Professional Responsibility

This research guide provides an overview of research sources on legal ethics and professional responsibility.

Overview

The ABA and state bar associations issue ethics opinions in response to attorney requests for advice. These advisory opinions help attorneys better understand ethical conduct under the Model Rules or Model Code. Formal opinions are those the ABA deems relevant to a large number of attorneys and tend to contain more in-depth discussion, while informal opinions are given in cases where the ABA does not believe there will be much interest.

State ethics opinions may be appealed to the appellate courts. Case law involving legal ethics issues includes appeals of disciplinary proceedings, legal malpractice, sanctions under FRCP 11, 26 and 37, and ineffective assistance of counsel claims in criminal appeals.

ABA Ethics Opinions

State Ethics Opinions

Cases

Case law involving legal ethics issues includes appeals of disciplinary proceedings, legal malpractice, sanctions under FRCP 11, 26 and 37, and ineffective assistance of counsel claims in criminal appeals.  Research cases through traditional methods. If you have a good case already and want to find more cases, use the headnotes and Shepards / KeyCite to find more cases.

Headnotes in Print

Each headnote in a case published in a West reporter is assigned a topic and  key number.  These topic and key numbers can be used to find more cases on the same subject.  Headnote 6 in this example has been assigned the topic of Damages and the key number of 57.21. If we want to find more cases that talk about what is needed to prove a claim of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, we can use the topic of Damages and the key number of 57.21 and look online or in a digest to find more cases that discuss this same thing.

West Headnote in Print

Headnotes in Westlaw

If you want to see the topic and key numbers in Westlaw headnotes, you may have to click the Change View link at the top of where the headnotes begin.

Westlaw Headnote

In the image above, we have headnote number 6 which deals with what is required to prove a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Headnote 6 has been assigned the topic of damages and the key number of 57.21. The key number assigned to a particular headnote is always the last and narrowest key number assigned.

Headnotes in Lexis Advance

The Lexis Advance headnotes are numbered but even though this is the same case, the headnotes are not the same as in Westlaw. The headnotes are completely different. Here, we still have a headnote that deals with the elements of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress. It is headnote number 5. We also do not have any key numbers. Just topics.  We can find more cases on this topic by clicking on the topic links. If we want a broader search, we can use the  intermediate levels, for example, we could search Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress rather than the specific Elements beneath that.  A search on any intermediate level will bring up results for all the more specific levels below it.

 

Lexis Headnote ExampleIn the image above, we have headnote number 5 which deals with the burden of proof for an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. There are two larger subject topics assigned to it: Evidence and Torts. Under each larger subject topic there are subtopics. The narrowest topic under Evidence is the Allocation (for burden of proof). The narrowest topic under Torts is Elements (for the intentional tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress).

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