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North Carolina

ABA Model Rule 8.4(g) Efforts in North Carolina


Status of Action in North Carolina

October 2020
The North Carolina State Bar Council is considering ABA Model Rule 8.4(g).

The quarterly meeting of the North Carolina State Bar Council will take place virtually on Friday, October 23, beginning at 8:30am. We expect there to be discussion of the proposed amendment to the Preamble of the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct and possibly of ABA Model Rule 8.4(g).

The Ethics Committee of the North Carolina State Bar is meeting the day before, on Thursday, October 22, at 9:00am. It is expected that the subcommittee studying the inclusion of ABA Model Rule 8.4(g) into the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct will provide an update.

The full schedule of October 2020 quarterly meeting of the North Carolina State Bar can be found here. Members of the public may view a live stream of any of the public meetings on the State Bar’s October 2020 YouTube Playlist.

July 2020
At its meeting on July 24, upon the recommendation of the Ethics Committee, the North Carolina State Bar Council voted to publish for comment a proposed amendment to the Preamble of the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct. Although the council approved a substantially similar amendment to the Preamble in 2010, the North Carolina Supreme Court did not approve the amendment at that time.

The Preamble to the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct sets forth the values of the legal profession in North Carolina. The proposed amendment to the Preamble purportedly identifies the avoidance of discriminatory conduct while acting in a professional capacity as a fundamental value of the profession. The comments of the membership are encouraged and welcomed and can be submitted by email to ethicscomments@ncbar.gov.

The Ethics Committee of the North Carolina State Bar is also considering whether Rule 8.4, Misconduct, of the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct should be amended to include a provision that is the same or similar to ABA Model Rule 8.4(g). Comments on this proposal are encouraged by email to ethicscomments@ncbar.gov.  


Rule Changes in North Carolina

Current Rule 8.4 Misconduct
It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:

(a) violate or attempt to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assist or induce another to do so, or do so through the acts of another;

(b) commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects;

(c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s fitness as a lawyer;

(d) engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice;

(e) state or imply an ability to influence improperly a government agency or official;

(f) knowingly assist a judge or judicial officer in conduct that is a violation of applicable rules of judicial conduct or other law; or

(g) intentionally prejudice or damage his or her client during the course of the professional relationship, except as may be required by Rule 3.3.

Current Comment
[1] Lawyers are subject to discipline when they violate or attempt to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assist or induce another to do so or do so through the acts of another, as when they request or instruct an agent to do so on the lawyer's behalf. Paragraph (a), however, does not prohibit a lawyer from advising a client or, in the case of a government lawyer, investigatory personnel, of action the client, or such investigatory personnel, is lawfully entitled to take.

[2] Many kinds of illegal conduct reflect adversely on a lawyer's fitness to practice law, such as offenses involving fraud and the offense of willful failure to file an income tax return. However, some kinds of offenses carry no such implication. Although a lawyer is personally answerable to the entire criminal law, a lawyer should be professionally answerable only for offenses that indicate lack of those characteristics relevant to law practice. Offenses involving violence, dishonesty, breach of trust, or serious interference with the administration of justice are in that category. A pattern of repeated offenses, even ones of minor significance when considered separately, can indicate indifference to legal obligation. A lawyer's dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation is not mitigated by virtue of the fact that the victim may be the lawyer's partner or law firm. A lawyer who steals funds, for instance, is guilty of a serious disciplinary violation regardless of whether the victim is the lawyer's employer, partner, law firm, client, or a third party.

[3] The purpose of professional discipline for misconduct is not punishment, but to protect the public, the courts, and the legal profession. Lawyer discipline affects only the lawyer's license to practice law. It does not result in incarceration. For this reason, to establish a violation of paragraph (b), the burden of proof is the same as for any other violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct: it must be shown by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence that the lawyer committed a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer. Conviction of a crime is conclusive evidence that the lawyer committed a criminal act although, to establish a violation of paragraph (b), it must be shown that the criminal act reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer. If it is established by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence that a lawyer committed a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer, the lawyer may be disciplined for a violation of paragraph (b) although the lawyer is never prosecuted or is acquitted or pardoned for the underlying criminal act.

[4] A showing of actual prejudice to the administration of justice is not required to establish a violation of paragraph (d). Rather, it must only be shown that the act had a reasonable likelihood of prejudicing the administration of justice. For example, in State Bar v. DuMont, 52 N.C. App. 1, 277 S.E.2d 827 (1981), modified on other grounds, 304 N.C. 627, 286 S.E.2d 89 (1982), the defendant was disciplined for advising a witness to give false testimony in a deposition even though the witness corrected his statement prior to trial. Conduct warranting the imposition of professional discipline under paragraph (d) is characterized by the element of intent or some other aggravating circumstance. The phrase “conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice” in paragraph (d) should be read broadly to proscribe a wide variety of conduct, including conduct that occurs outside the scope of judicial proceedings. In State Bar v. Jerry Wilson, 82 DHC 1, for example, a lawyer was disciplined for conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice after forging another individual’s name to a guarantee agreement, inducing his wife to notarize the forged agreement, and using the agreement to obtain funds.

[5] Threats, bullying, harassment, and other conduct serving no substantial purpose other than to intimidate, humiliate, or embarrass anyone associated with the judicial process including judges, opposing counsel, litigants, witnesses, or court personnel violate the prohibition on conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. When directed to opposing counsel, such conduct tends to impede opposing counsel’s ability to represent his or her client effectively. Comments “by one lawyer tending to disparage the personality or performance of another...tend to reduce public trust and confidence in our courts and, in more extreme cases, directly interfere with the truth-finding function by distracting judges and juries from the serious business at hand.” State v. Rivera, 350 N.C. 285, 291, 514 S.E.2d 720, 723 (1999). See Rule 3.5, cmt. [10] and Rule 4.4, cmt. [2].

[6] A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law.

[7] Lawyers holding public office assume legal responsibilities going beyond those of other citizens. A lawyer's abuse of public office can suggest an inability to fulfill the professional role of lawyers. The same is true of abuse of positions of private trust such as trustee, executor, administrator, guardian, agent and officer, director or manager of a corporation or other organization.

History Note: Statutory Authority G.S. 84-23

Adopted by the Supreme Court: July 24, 1997

Amendments Approved by the Supreme Court: March 1, 2003; March 5, 2015; September 28, 2017


Current Preamble of the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct
0.1 Preamble: A Lawyer's Responsibilities

[1] A lawyer, as a member of the legal profession, is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system, and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.

[2] As a representative of clients, a lawyer performs various functions. As advisor, a lawyer provides a client with an informed understanding of the client's legal rights and obligations and explains their practical implications. As advocate, a lawyer zealously asserts the client's position under the rules of the adversary system. As negotiator, a lawyer seeks a result advantageous to the client but consistent with requirements of honest dealing with others. As evaluator, a lawyer acts by examining a client's legal affairs and reporting about them to the client or to others.

[3] In addition to these representational functions, a lawyer may serve as a third-party neutral, a nonrepresentational role helping the parties to resolve a dispute or other matter. Some of these Rules apply directly to lawyers who are or have served as third-party neutrals. See, e.g. , Rules 1.12 and 2.4. In addition, there are Rules that apply to lawyers who are not active in the practice of law or to practicing lawyers even when they are acting in a nonprofessional capacity. For example, a lawyer who commits fraud in the conduct of a business is subject to discipline for engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation. See Rule 8.4.

[4] In all professional functions a lawyer should be competent, prompt, and diligent. A lawyer should maintain communication with a client concerning the representation. A lawyer should keep in confidence information relating to representation of a client except so far as disclosure is required or permitted by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.

[5] A lawyer's conduct should conform to the requirements of the law, both in professional service to clients and in the lawyer's business and personal affairs. A lawyer should use the law's procedures only for legitimate purposes and not to harass or intimidate others. A lawyer should demonstrate respect for the legal system and for those who serve it, including judges, other lawyers, and public officials. While it is a lawyer's duty, when necessary, to challenge the rectitude of official action, it is also a lawyer's duty to uphold the legal process.

[6] As a public citizen, a lawyer should seek improvement of the law, access to the legal system, the administration of justice, and the quality of service rendered by the legal profession. As a member of a learned profession, a lawyer should cultivate knowledge of the law beyond its use for clients, employ that knowledge in reform of the law, and work to strengthen legal education. In addition, a lawyer should further the public's understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system because legal institutions in a constitutional democracy depend on popular participation and support to maintain their authority. A lawyer should be mindful of deficiencies in the administration of justice and of the fact that the poor, and sometimes persons who are not poor, cannot afford adequate legal assistance. Therefore, all lawyers should devote professional time and resources and use civic influence to ensure equal access to our system of justice for all those who, because of economic or social barriers, cannot afford or secure adequate legal counsel. A lawyer should aid the legal profession in pursuing these objectives and should help the bar regulate itself in the public interest.

[7] A lawyer should render public interest legal service and provide civic leadership. A lawyer may discharge this responsibility by providing professional services at no fee or a reduced fee to persons of limited means or to public service or charitable groups or organizations, by service in activities for improving the law, society, the legal system or the legal profession, and by financial support for organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means.

[8] The legal profession is a group of people united in a learned calling for the public good. At their best, lawyers assure the availability of legal services to all, regardless of ability to pay, and as leaders of their communities, states, and nation, lawyers use their education and experience to improve society. It is the basic responsibility of each lawyer to provide community service, community leadership, and public interest legal services without fee, or at a substantially reduced fee, in such areas as poverty law, civil rights, public rights law, charitable organization representation, and the administration of justice.

[9] The basic responsibility for providing legal services for those unable to pay ultimately rests upon the individual lawyer. Personal involvement in the problems of the disadvantaged can be one of the most rewarding experiences in the life of a lawyer. Every lawyer, regardless of professional prominence or professional workload, should find time to participate in, or otherwise support, the provision of legal services to the disadvantaged. The provision of free legal services to those unable to pay reasonable fees continues to be an obligation of each lawyer as well as the profession generally, but the efforts of individual lawyers are often not enough to meet the need. Thus, the profession and government instituted additional programs to provide legal services. Accordingly, legal aid offices, lawyer referral services, and other related programs were developed, and programs will be developed by the profession and the government. Every lawyer should support all proper efforts to meet this need for legal services.

[10] Many of a lawyer's professional responsibilities are prescribed in the Rules of Professional Conduct, as well as substantive and procedural law. However, a lawyer is also guided by personal conscience and the approbation of professional peers. A lawyer should strive to attain the highest level of skill, to improve the law and the legal profession, and to exemplify the legal profession's ideals of public service.

[11] A lawyer's responsibilities as a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system, and a public citizen are usually harmonious. Thus, when an opposing party is well represented, a lawyer can be a zealous advocate on behalf of a client and, at the same time, assume that justice is being done. So also, a lawyer can be sure that preserving client confidences ordinarily serves the public interest because people are more likely to seek legal advice, and thereby heed their legal obligations, when they know their communications will be private.

[12] In the nature of law practice, however, conflicting responsibilities are encountered. Virtually all difficult ethical problems arise from conflict between a lawyer's responsibilities to clients, to the legal system, and to the lawyer's own interest in remaining an ethical person while earning a satisfactory living. The Rules of Professional Conduct often prescribe terms for resolving such conflicts. Within the framework of these Rules, however, many difficult issues of professional discretion can arise. Such issues must be resolved through the exercise of sensitive professional and moral judgment guided by the basic principles underlying the Rules. These principles include the lawyer's obligation zealously to protect and pursue a client's legitimate interests, within the bounds of the law, while maintaining a professional, courteous and civil attitude toward all persons involved in the legal system.

[13] Although a matter is hotly contested by the parties, a lawyer should treat opposing counsel with courtesy and respect. The legal dispute of the client must never become the lawyer’s personal dispute with opposing counsel. A lawyer, moreover, should provide zealous but honorable representation without resorting to unfair or offensive tactics. The legal system provides a civilized mechanism for resolving disputes, but only if the lawyers themselves behave with dignity. A lawyer’s word to another lawyer should be the lawyer’s bond. As professional colleagues, lawyers should encourage and counsel new lawyers by providing advice and mentoring; foster civility among members of the bar by acceding to reasonable requests that do not prejudice the interests of the client; and counsel and assist peers who fail to fulfill their professional duties because of substance abuse, depression, or other personal difficulties.

[14] The legal profession is largely self-governing. Although other professions also have been granted powers of self-government, the legal profession is unique in this respect because of the close relationship between the profession and the processes of government and law enforcement. This connection is manifested in the fact that ultimate authority over the legal profession is vested largely in the courts.

[15] To the extent that lawyers meet the obligations of their professional calling, the occasion for government regulation is obviated. Self-regulation also helps maintain the legal profession's independence from government domination. An independent legal profession is an important force in preserving government under law, for the abuse of legal authority is more readily challenged by a self-regulated profession.

[16] The legal profession's relative autonomy carries with it a responsibility to assure that its regulations are conceived in the public interest and not in furtherance of parochial or self-interested concerns of the bar. Every lawyer is responsible for observance of the Rules of Professional Conduct. A lawyer should also aid in securing their observance by other lawyers. Neglect of these responsibilities compromises the independence of the profession and the public interest which it serves.

[17] Lawyers play a vital role in the preservation of society. The fulfillment of this role requires an understanding by lawyers of their relationship to our legal system. The Rules of Professional Conduct, when properly applied, serve to define that relationship.

History Note: Statutory Authority G.S. 84-23

Adopted by the Supreme Court July 24, 1997

Amendments Approved by the Supreme Court: March 1, 2003; November 16, 2006


Proposed Preamble of the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct
0.1 Preamble: A Lawyer's Responsibilities

[1] A lawyer, as a member of the legal profession, is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system, and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.

[2] ….

[6] While acting in a professional capacity, a lawyer should not discriminate on the basis of a person’s race, gender, national origin, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or socioeconomic status. This responsibility of non-discrimination does not limit a lawyer’s right to advocate on any issue, nor does this responsibility limit the prerogative of a lawyer to accept, decline, or withdraw from a representation in accordance with these rules.

[re-numbering remaining paragraphs]