When lawyer conduct becomes a contested matter, trial counsel asserting or defending the lawyer conduct claim, must decide whether an expert witness is needed. Often a lawyer who is highly experienced in a particular area of law, such as criminal law, tort law, real estate law, domestic relations, bankruptcy, estates and probate, or intellectual property might be selected as an expert witness. On other occasions, a lawyer who focuses on legal ethics and professional responsibility offers a needed dimension to the prosecution or defense of a claim. Since careful lawyers will act in conformity with the rules of professional responsibility, expert testimony about compliance with the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct is often helpful to describe the common standards and customs of the legal profession.
Although efforts have been made to make legal ethics principles more generally accessible and comprehensible, including the publishing of treatises, loose-leaf services and reported cases, the legal ethics rules remain somewhat esoteric even for many lawyers and judges. Thus, presenting legal ethics principles in hearings and trials often requires specialized knowledge. Common contexts for such expert opinion testimony include:
- Civil actions by clients against lawyers for legal malpractice
- Motions to disqualify counsel for conflicts of interest
- Fee disputes between clients and lawyers, or lawyers of different firms
- Efforts by corporate entities, government agencies and private parties to hold lawyers responsible for the conduct of their clients
- Disciplinary proceedings against lawyers for ethical violations