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This Article explores the interpretation of ethics rules through the prism of two rules that have been the subject of ongoing controversy and contention: Rule 4.2, the “no-contact” rule, which prohibits a lawyer from communicating with a represented client absent the consent of that client’s lawyer, and Rule 8.4(g), which prohibits various forms of discrimination and harassment. Each of these rules provides a model for a wider examination of different interpretive approaches to ethics rules, grounded in different attitudes toward the features and functions of ethics codes. Specifically, the debate revolving around Rule 4.2 illustrates competing approaches to interpreting a rule that appears clearly articulated but, if applied as stated, would defy the similarly clear purpose of the rule, while Rule 8.4(g) has elicited sharply contrasting approaches to the interpretation and application of broadly articulated ethics rules. The Article concludes that, while divisions over the interpretation of ethics rules may not prove inherently problematic, the relative lack of attention to the examination of interpretive approaches to ethics rules remains striking, particularly in light of the central role of the rules both in the regulation of lawyers and as expressions of the ethical norms of the legal profession. Thus, without expecting or proposing uniformity, the Article represents an effort to promote further discussion and consideration of interpretive attitudes and approaches to ethics codes and ethics rules, encompassing issues of vital importance to the legal community.

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Pepperdine Law Review