The Duty Defined: Specific Obligations That Follow From Civil Government Lawyers' General Duty to Serve the Public Interest
Steven K. Berenson
Thomas Jefferson School of Law
September 23, 2003
Brandeis Law Journal, Vol. 42, No. 1, p. 13, 2003
Thomas Jefferson School of Law Research Paper No. 445822
In "Public Lawyers, Private Values: Can, Should, and Will Government Lawyers Serve the Public Interest?," 41 Boston College L. Rev. 789 (2000), the author of the present Article attempted to provide an academic defense of what the previous article described as "the public interest serving role" for government attorneys: namely, the proposition that government attorneys have greater duties to serve the public interest than their counterparts in private practice. Since that time, additional academic support has been provided for the public interest serving role, particularly as applied to civil government lawyers. Nonetheless, the public interest serving role for government lawyers remains controversial among academics. At least part of the reason for this continuing controversy may be a failure to translate government attorneys' general duty to serve the public interest, insofar as civil government attorneys are concerned, into specific rules of conduct that can provide guidance to such attorneys in their day to day work.
The present Article makes an initial effort to define rules and principles applicable to civil government attorneys in furtherance of their general duty to serve the public interest. A wide range of cases, statutes, and ethics provisions suggest three areas in which special ethical obligations, distinct from those applicable to private practitioners, are emerging for civil government attorneys. These areas relate to government lawyers' duty to represent their clients zealously, confidentiality, and conflicts of interest. Each of these areas is explored, in an effort to articulate the particular responsibilities that flow from government lawyers' special duties to serve the public interest.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 58
Keywords: government lawyer, government attorney, professional responsibility, public interest
JEL Classification: K10, K40Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: September 23, 2003 ; Last revised: November 14, 2010
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