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Tales from the Trenches: Ethics in an Election Year

There’s something about an election year that has me thinking about ethics, and more specifically, about the ethics rules that are hammered into us starting in law school. Ethics rules we are then tested on to obtain our license then required to continue to study through approved CLE in order to maintain it.


About two years into my practice, I was working as an Associate at a family law firm and one of the partners instructed me to file for an emergency protection order in one of her cases. She called me from the car, en route to a cruise ship. Anyway, as she ran through the facts, I didn’t hear grounds for an emergency PO. When I asked, she confirmed that we absolutely didn’t have grounds, but would file it anyway because the client just paid us $20,000. Fortunately, I was able to talk the client down after interviewing witnesses and learning (unsurprisingly) that the testimony would not go well for our client. Unfortunately, I doubt this is an uncommon scenario. So, what should we do when faced with an ethical legal dilemma? Or when pressured to do something we believe is unethical?


Sometimes there is an exit route or a workaround as I used in my situation. When there’s not, talk to someone you trust, such as a mentor or more experienced attorney.  Often talking through it with someone who is not involved can provide the perspective you need to determine your best course of action.


But when you’re stumped or the issue is immediate so you don’t have time to reach out to someone, you can call the CBA’s Ethics Hotline at 303-860-1115 or 888-332-6736 (in state only). Here’s a link to the page in case you’d like to bookmark it:

The attorneys will only have about 10 minutes to spend with you, so have the issue clearly outlined in your mind when you call. You can also find this number with a quick Google search if you ever need to. The Ethics Committee page also has handy links to upcoming ethics CLEs in case you’re looking to complete your ethics CLE requirements.


Shelly Wilbanks is a graduate of Texas Tech University, where she majored in Journalism. While working in IT as a technical writer and volunteering to teach computer skills at a domestic violence shelter, Shelly found what the residents needed most were legal services. She attended law school at night at the SMU Dedman School of Law to become a legal advocate for women and children and has devoted much of her practice to child welfare law.

Outside of the courtroom, Shelly is an avid reader and a member of two book clubs, one which she began in Dallas and continues remotely, and the other with the Colorado Women’s Bar Association.

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