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Hofstra Law Review

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This Article explores the work of bar association ethics committees. These are committees established by bar associations to give advice to lawyers about how to comply with the applicable rules of professional conduct. My question is, are these committees broken? Over the past two decades, several legal academics have concluded that they are. At its harshest, the critique is that ethics committees, typified by the American Bar Association's ("ABA") ethics committee, publish opinions that respond to trivial questions by providing poorly reasoned answers on which nobody can or does rely, and that the reason that the committees' opinions are inadequate is that the committees themselves are poorly designed. I take a more positive view, which is colored by my own experience. I have been a member of the New York State Bar Association's ethics committee since 1992, and recently completed a three-year term as chair. I also spent three years as a member of the ethics committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. These experiences, of course, make me less than objective about the work of the committees. Nonetheless, they enable me to offer an insider's perspective. I will start with some background-first, a short discussion of how lawyers resolve questions about the proper course of their professional conduct, and then, a short discussion of the help provided by ethics committees, using the New York State bar's committee as an example. Next, I will summarize the problems that legal scholars have identified in the past. Finally, I will try to put the committees' work in a more positive light and offer some reflections in response to the committees' critics. I will not argue that ethics committees are perfect and have no room to improve. But I will suggest that they have been greatly undervalued by their critics and that they are not inherently flawed.