In his 1994 seminal article on Federalizing Legal Ethics, Prof. Fred Zacharias examined the need for a national and uniform code of ethics for attorneys. Prof. Zacharias was correct that there has been increasing pressure to federalize legal ethics, but that process is occurring not through articulation of national norms but rather through decentralized contextualization of attorney conduct norms. Federal agencies that direct securities practice, immigration, tax, patent, labor and many other areas of federal practice are increasingly supplementing state regulations to specifically regulate the attorneys who appear before their agencies. Targeted substantive federal law and treaty obligations also increasingly apply to attorneys. The effect is to slowly move the center of gravity of attorney regulation toward a complex web of federal regulation in the many areas that involve federal interests. This process offers some important benefits of contextualization and carries some risk, including conflicts between federal and state norms. Our robust experience with federalism provides a mechanism to work through these tensions and differences.
Daniel R. Coquillette and Judith A. McMorrow. "Zacharias’s Prophecy: The Federalization of Legal Ethics Through Legislative, Court, and Agency Regulation." San Diego Law Review 48, no.1 (2011): 123-156.