Thorough research into legal ethics questions leads to a variety of sources. These resources include formal written codes of ethics; state and federal statutes, court rules, case law and administrative rules and procedures; opinions of ethics committees; as well as law review articles, books and treatises.
Rules of Professional Conduct
The New York State Bar Association adopted the Rules of Professional Conduct effective April 1, 2009. The Rules replaced the New York Code of Professional Responsibility which had been in effect since 1970. The code last underwent extensive revisions in 1999. The most up-to-date and authoritative version of the rules is found in the two annotated codes Judiciary Law title, McKinney's Book 29 appendix and volume 19A of the New York Consolidated Laws Service (CLS). The McKinney's appendix includes annotations to New York City, County, and State bar association ethics opinions and New York State court decisions. CLS has annotations to State bar ethics opinions and court cases. Simon's New York Rules of Professional Responsibility Annotated is published each year; it includes the Rules text and lengthy annotations of cases and ethics opinions.
Lawyers faced with an ethical dilemma may submit their question to a state or local ethics committee and request an opinion as to whether or not their suggested action may be a breach of the state code of professional responsibility. Opinions deemed to be "most important" by the committees of ethics are then published. The published opinions may or may not be determinative in any particular case. However, courts often look to the published opinions for persuasive authority.
Opinions of state and local bar associations in New York can be found in several different sources:
- Opinions / This five volume set contains the full text of opinions from the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, the New York County Lawyers' Association, the New York State Bar Association and the Bar Association of Nassau County. New York Code of Professional Responsibility: Opinions, Commentary & Caselaw / This set continues the printing of opinions from Opinions.
Simon's New York Rules of Professional Responsibility Annotated / Published annually, it includes the Rules text and lengthy annotations of cases and ethics opinions. Simon's publishes the full opinions from the four most active ethics committees: New York State Bar Association, Association of the Bar of the City of New York, Nassau County Bar Association, and the New York County Lawyers' Association.
- ABA/BNA Lawyer's Manual on Professional Conduct / This multi-volume looseleaf service contains annotations of state and local bar association opinions. In addition to the opinions of the four bar associations listed in Opinions, the ethics opinions volume also contains annotations of opinions from the Monroe County Bar Association, the Suffolk County Bar Association, the Queens County Bar Association, and the New York Women's Bar Association.
National Reporter on Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility / This multi-volume looseleaf set contains New York State Bar Association opinions from 1982 to the present. It is also available on LexisNexis as the ny library, nyetop file.
- New York State Bar Journal / The bar journal publishes opinions from the New York State Bar Association.
New York Law Journal / Opinions from downstate local bar associations and the New York State Bar Association are printed. Opinions and news stories are indexed under the topic heading "ethics and ethical questions" in the New York Law Journal Digest Annotator which ceased print publication in 2004.
- Formal Opinions / This set includes all opinions of the New York State Bar Association through 1981.
Opinions of the Committees on Professional Ethics / This single volume contains opinions of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York and the New York County Lawyer's Association through 1956.
- Digest of Bar Association Ethics Opinions / This three volume set contains summaries of opinions from the New York State Bar Association, the New York County Lawyers' Association, and the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. Coverage ends at 1980. The web sites of the New York State Bar Association, New York City Bar, and New York County Lawyer’s Association all contain their respective ethics opinions.
Bar Association of Nassau County Opinions / These notebooks contain slip opinions from the Nassau County Bar Association starting in 1991.
- LexisNexis and Westlaw files contain the full text of recent New York ethics opinions. In LexisNexis use the ethics or ny libraries, nybar (New York State Bar Association) and nycbar (Association of the Bar of the City of New York) files. In Westlaw, use the nyeth-eo (New York State Bar Association, Association of the Bar of the City of New York, New York County Lawyer’s Association) database.
New York cases touching on issues of professional responsibility and ethics can be found by using the standard case finding tools: New York Digest 4th, New York Jurisprudence 2d, Westlaw, and LexisNexis. Relevant cases can also be located by referring to the annotations contained in the two New York annotated codes and by Shepardizing or KeyCiting the Code. State court cases citing sections of the ABA's Code of Professional Responsibility and the Model Rules of Professional Conduct are found in Shepard's Professional Responsibility and Judicial Conduct Citations. The ABA/BNA Lawyer's Manual on Professional Conduct and the National Reporter on Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility also reprint recent court decisions concerning legal ethics.
The current reports volume of the ABA/BNA Lawyers Manual on Professional Conduct is updated bi-weekly. The National Reporter on Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility also contains news items of importance in the field of legal ethics. The New York Law Journal, the New York State Bar Journal, and the Record of the Bar of the City of New York are other sources of current information on state and local ethics. The Current Reports volume of the ABA/BNA Lawyer's Manual on Professional Conduct lists the addresses and phone numbers of the various bar associations' committees on ethics.