On my first day of law school, we had an ethics discussion. Ethics are important to attorneys, even those who don’t follow the ethics rules. That’s because the Iowa Supreme Court holds their feet to the fire.

Lawyers’ ethics are not the same as good old traditional morality. For instance, if my client admits he has committed a crime, I can’t tell anyone. This is because I have an extraordinary responsibility to my client. There are exceptions, when someone is at risk, for instance, but I keep almost all confidences.

Today, the Iowa Supreme Court took up the cases of two attorneys for violating our sworn ethics. One lawyer got a reprimand, the other lawyer lost her license for at least six months. Most often, it seems, lawyers get in trouble for not handling their client’s money responsibly. That matters, of course, because when I put your money in a trust account, it is still your money. I bill against it but I often issue refunds. (Flat fees are different, of course.)

But that’s not the end of attorney ethics. I take seriously my responsibility to my clients. I need to be competent — and that means in the area of law for which I’ve been hired –, keep their confidences, meet court deadlines, work diligently on their cases and give them accurate and appropriate legal advice. I also believe major decisions should be made either by or with my clients.

I am not a social worker. But, I try to give my clients good practical advice when I can because I care about them as people. And that’s just good old fashion morality.