Document Type


Publication Title

The Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics



Publication Date



aba; ethics rules; professionalism; lawyering; death-penalty


State ethics codes based on the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct address lawyers' work in advocacy but do not target lawyers' work in particular areas of advocacy or in other specialized practice areas. For more than forty years, critics have asserted that existing ethics rules are too superficial and should be supplemented by specialized rules. This article examines the utility of specialized ethics rules for one particular sub-specialty-death-penalty defense practice. After identifying arguments for and against a specialized ethics code for death-penalty cases, the article analyzes the arguments in the context of a particular ethics dilemma that some death-penalty defense lawyers have encountered-namely, whether to pursue post-conviction relief on behalf of an ambivalent or unexpressive mentally-ill death-row inmate. The article finds persuasive reasons for courts to develop specialized rules that would provide death-penalty defense lawyers more clarity in how to address this and other ethics dilemmas. Recognizing that courts will likely remain indifferent to the idea of developing specialized ethics rules, however, the article concludes by identifying other ways for courts to mitigate the uncertainties that specialized rules would address.

Included in

Law Commons