As with many professions, the legal profession within the United States is self-governed. Each state determines its own requirements for an attorney to become licensed to practice within the state. Individual states also determine their own rules of professional conduct. Individual states also decide what constitutes a violation of the rules and what the sanctions will be for a violation. The American Bar Association, however, has development the Model Rules of Professional Conduct that have been adopted in whole or in part by most of the states.
As a self-regulating profession, the legal profession in the United States is responsible for determining the ethical and professional responsibilities that each lawyer has to his or her clients and to the tribunal. The American Bar Association created the Model Rules of Professional Conduct in 1983 to give the states a model to follow when forming their own rules. The Model Rules of Professional Conduct are not binding on any of the states, rather they are intended as a guideline only. Having said that, that vast majority of the states have either adopted the rules as written or fashioned their own rules closely after the rules created by the American Bar Association.
As professionals who represent people in complicated and often sensitive legal matters, lawyers are expected to conduct themselves in an ethical and professional manner at all times. In order to be clear what is considered ethical and professional, the Model Rules of Professional Conduct were created. The rules cover everything from the competence necessary to represent a client to matters of confidentiality and fees. In addition to providing guidance on what is expected from an attorney when he or she is practicing law, the rules address what may be considered a violation of the ethical and professional standards required of an attorney.
Because the practice of law within the United States is governed by the individual states, there is no national body that oversees attorneys. The American Bar Association is an organization that serves as a national venue for lawyers to further their education as well as provides a national forum for lawyers to communicate with each other regarding anything that affects a lawyer's practice of the law. The American Bar Association not only educates the public, but it provides numerous continuing legal education opportunities for lawyers as well. Membership in the American Bar Association is not required; however, it is highly recommended as they are considered an authority on issues that affect the practice of law within the United States, such as the creation of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.