Most legal code of ethics are based on the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct http://www.abanet.org/cpr/mrpc/mrpc_toc.html
In my case, my lawyers filed a motion for relief on four issues but met with opposing counsel the day before the motion hearing and agreed to a bunch of items (called a stipulation) – only one of these stipulated items addressed anything in the the original motion. They then showed up at the hearing and failed to argue any of the issues in the motion (all without telling me that the motion would not be argued).
I just learned yesterday that I lost my fee dispute case as adjudicated by the bar association (self regulation is a huge problem in itself when you can’t even get a dispute heard without agreeing to binding arbitration). The ABA model rules indicate that a fee is unreasonable when the results obtained are not in line with the fee charged. I argued that writing a motion and then not arguing it meant no result was obtained therefore I should not have to pay the fee charged. Seems pretty simple – if you ask a painter to paint your house green but he decides to paint it blue (without consulting you) then you should not have to pay for the BLUE and GREEN paint (let alone be happy that you now have a blue room instead of green).
Not surprisingly, the bar saw it differently. According to the model rules, lawyers are free to change the means (stipulation instead of motion) whenever they feel it will reach my objectives (which they argue was a divorce). This is like arguing you just wanted your room painted but the painter is free to choose the paint color. This is true even when the client disagrees with the means or specifically requests a different means (e.g. a motion hearing or a green room). The lawyers’ argument was that the motion created pressure for the stipulation (which, of course, failed to address any of my major issues). Their argument was they would of got to the major issues later – which of course was the reason for the motion in the first place!
The bottom line is that lawyers make their money from PROCESS. ‘Due process’ is another word for ‘billable hours’. Switching from one process (a motion) to another (a stipulation) and leaving issues out is a great way to generate more billable hours…and there is not a damn thing you can do about it as the client. The only weapon you have as a client is to terminate a lawyer’s services – which creates its own headaches for you in court – but if you suspect you are being scammed by a firm that is just running up billable hours then terminate them ASAP!