• Petitioned The American Bar Association (ABA)

This petition was delivered to:

The American Bar Association (ABA)

The American Bar Association (ABA): Stop copyrighting ethics opinions & keeping them behind a paywall.

    1. Carolyn  Elefant
    2. Petition by

      Carolyn Elefant

      Washington, DC

Most lawyers actually want to be ethical. Before we engage in soliciting clients or peeking at meta-data or putting data in the cloud or undertaking virtually any other activity related to the practice of law, we want to educate ourselves on whether it's ethical or not. In order to do so, we need access to ethics regulations and the opinions that interpret them in order to evaluate the propriety of our conduct. Some states, notably New York, make its ethics regulations and opinions available at no charge, and even have a free downloadable app so that lawyers can consult these sources right on their phone. But the ABA, whose opinions serve as the basis for many state bar opinions keeps its ethics opinions cloistered behind a paywall and aggressively threatens to enforce its copyright against those lawyers who share those opinions without permission even for purely educational purposes (See e.g. here - http://myshingle.com/2010/09/articles/ethics-malpractice-issues/lawyers-want-to-be-good-so-why-does-the-aba-make-it-so-darn-hard/ and here
http://lawyerist.com/aba-asks-lawyer-blogger-to-take-down-aba-ethics-opinion/ The only way to access these opinions is to pay a commercial research provider like Westlaw or Lexis or to purchase them from the ABA for $20/pop. Even ABA membership does not confer free access to opinions; lawyers have to spend an extra $100 to join the Center for Professional Responsibility. Why should lawyers have to pay to learn about the ethics opinions that govern our conduct? Subjecting ethics opinions to copyright protection and subsequently requiring lawyers to pay for access to ethics opinions is a hassle and an added burden. Both copyrighting decisions and payment keeps them out of circulation and deters even well-meaning lawyers from bothering to check the ethics opinions at all. As a result they may inadvertently violate those rules which in turn, may harm clients and the public. Moreover, shouldn't the PUBLIC have access to ethics opinions to be able to determine if their lawyers are conducting themselves properly? To the ABA, I say tear down the copyright-and-fee wall and make your ethics opinions freely available to the lawyers you claim to represent and the public you claim to serve

Recent signatures


    1. Reached 100 signatures


    Reasons for signing

    • Owen Hathaway FORT COLLINS, CO
      • over 1 year ago

      While not actually law, these ethics opinions shape and mold the law of practicing law. Access to these opinions can only serve the profession. I 100% echo the comments made by the petitioner.

    • D. Paul Dalton IRVING, TX
      • over 1 year ago

      I cannot conceive of any rational justification for imposing a fee for accessing (or for making it difficult to access) ethical opinions that are intended -- and used -- to define and explain the ethical standards to which attorneys are expected to hold themselves. There are good and understandable reasons for charging fees for accessing resources such as CLE programs and other member services of the ABA. However, these ethical opinions are intended to set standards applicable to all attorneys and, for that reason, should be made freely available to all attorneys, as well as the public.

      If anyone is aware of a good reason why it is in the best interest of the profession and the public to charge fees for accessing ABA ethical opinions, I would like to hear it.

    • William Peacock SAN JOSE, CA
      • over 1 year ago

      A man can't abide by standards and laws that he has no knowledge of. The purpose of the ABA is to advance the practice of the profession, especially regarding ethics. Fulfill your mission.

    • Rick Sanders NASHVILLE, TN
      • almost 2 years ago

      The policy seems self-defeating to me. There are better ways to fund the good work of the ABA's ethics panels.

    • Nicole Hyland NEW YORK, NY
      • almost 2 years ago

      Bar Associations should be freely promoting and disseminating any information that assists lawyers in understanding and complying with their ethical obligations. Period.


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