Ethics Counsel on www.OKbar.org

The Office of Ethics Counsel is for You

By Travis Pickens, Ethics Counsel

The Office of Ethics Counsel was created in recognition of the increasingly complex law of professional responsibility and the related awareness that providing independent guidance as to ethics issues would be a valuable service to the members of the bar. The frequent connections between the emotional and psychological stresses attorneys disproportionately experience, which often result in depression or alcohol and drug abuse, and violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct, are also widely recognized.

Consequently, the Office of Ethics Counsel provides a number of services to lawyers that are among the most valuable to its membership, including
  • acting as the association’s liaison for the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Assistance Program Committee
  • providing accountability to lawyers placed in the diversion program
  • providing continuing ethics education to the bar’s members in seminars throughout the state
  • providing general day-to-day guidance in response to your inquiries about ethics issues.
The Office of Ethics Counsel is distinct and entirely separate from that of General Counsel. The Office of General Counsel is charged with the important and necessary “self-policing” task of investigation and prosecution of Rules of Professional Conduct violations. The role of ethics counsel, on the other hand, is to provide a counterpart resource to lawyers — providing a basis for early independent advice and guidance regarding compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct, to hopefully avoid ethics violations altogether. Ethics counsel was created to help you proactively recognize, consider and deal with issues of professional responsibility in your role as lawyer and counselor.

Your inquiries and the guidance provided by this office in any form are confidential and protected as a privileged communication. The communications between you and this office cannot be used against you in any proceeding of any kind. Ethics counsel does not “decide” ethics issues or arbitrate disputes. The advice provided is advisory only — but as specific and meaningful as possible.

When you call with a question pertaining to your own situation, the advice will be advisory in nature but still direct and specific. Research into Oklahoma ethics opinions, ABA ethics opinions and case law may be necessary to give you the best advice possible, based upon the
time allowed.

If you call with respect to the behavior or ethical issue as to another lawyer, counsel will endeavor to provide you references to the portions of the RPC and ethical opinions or cases that may apply to the question but does not offer an “opinion” or pre-judge the situation as there are undoubtedly other pertinent facts or factors that might affect the advice.

No advice or ethics guidance is provided to clients or members of the general public who may call except perhaps for polite referral to the OBA’s Web site. 

About The Author

Travis Pickens serves as OBA Ethics Counsel. He is responsible for addressing ethics questions from OBA members, working with the Legal Ethics Advisory Panel, monitoring diversion program participants, teaching classes and writing articles. A former litigator in private practice, he has served as co-chair of the Work/Life Balance Committee and as vice-chair of the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Assistance Program Committee.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- Dec.12, 2009 -- Vol. 80 No. 33 

Travis Pickens is the OBA Ethics Counsel. He can be reached at ethics@okbar.org.