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Legal Ethics and Technology: What has changed?

Nevin Clinton, Team,

What is legal ethics?

Legal ethics refers to a set of norms on how an advocate must conduct himself/herself and behave in a professional workspace. Such professional ethics are of paramount importance for any occupation and it is no different in the legal field as well. Now, there are various written and unwritten rules on legal ethics that each advocate is expected to follow not only in India, but around the world as well.

Need for Legal Ethics

Having and following a code of legal ethics is crucial because there is a sense of nobility and honour associated with the legal profession that is necessary to be preserved. Professional behaviour and friendly cooperation thanks to legal ethics helps in doing the same by establishing smoothness of operation in the court. Unwarranted behaviour by legal personnel on the other hand, would tarnish the image of the legal professional and lead to lesser confidence among the general public. Such a situation would turn out to be extremely problematic because of how high a regard the integrity of the legal profession is held in. Thus, it becomes essential to clearly establish a code of legal ethics and the lawmakers in India have done the same.

Legal ethics in India

Legal ethics in India is provided by rules passed by the Bar Council of India as well as the provisions of the Advocate Act, 1961. According to these, there are various duties imposed on advocates towards the court, clients and colleagues. 

Some of the duties towards a court imposed by legal ethics on an advocate include behaving in a dignified manner, respecting the dignity of the court, not using foul language in the court, appearing in proper dress code, not appearing in matters of pecuniary interest etc. Similarly, towards the clients, advocates have certain duties like not withdrawing from service, upholding clients’ interests, keeping discussions confidential, not appearing for opposite parties and so on. Not following these ethics could result in a complaint being filed at the State Bar Council which can result in a warning, suspension or removal of the advocate from the state roll.

Legal Ethics and Technology: The position in India and around the world

With the advent of modern technology and its impact in virtually all fields of work, it becomes necessary to examine the legal profession as well from a technological viewpoint. With technology ruling the roost and playing a key role in all operations around the world, advocates must also stay competent and abreast of advancements. Thus, integrating technological aspects into legal ethics becomes necessary at the moment.

In India, rules governing legal ethics have not been amended to include any technological aspect. But that is not the case with most countries around the world. For example, the USA has brought in amendments to its American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Rule 1.1 of the same states that a lawyer must competently represent his client by staying abreast of changes in law “including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology”. 

What has changed?

Technology has become an inescapable part of the legal profession around the world today. Right from documentation to communication to even litigation, everything is done online. Further, there is ready availability of data online which leads to ease of research and better quality of service by advocates. Also, technology helps eliminate risk of errors while also ensuring better resource management. There is a heightened sense of transparency as well. For example, technology has ensured that legal solutions and opinions can be sought online. Similarly, availability of chatting options with various advocates helps in creating a marketplace where clients can choose their lawyers. 

Need to include provisions on technology in legal ethics

Due to the various aforementioned uses of technology in the legal profession, it becomes essential to use these in an ethical manner. It is quite easy to manipulate information online and hence, lawyers must be bound by certain norms. Further, like the American Bar Association Rules say, competence is key for a lawyer in the field of technology. One must stay aware of the need to use technology in an effective way. Ensuring data security, preservation of documents and so on which were of significance even before the advent of technology are all the more important at present. A lack of knowledge on these technological developments could have detrimental effects on a lawyer’s performance. That is exactly why the Bar Council of India must also strive to make provisions on technology in the legal ethics of the country.

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