CODE OF ETHICS – GEORGIA COUNCIL OF ADOPTION LAWYERS, INC.
In order to further the cause of ethical adoptions in Georgia, the Fellows of the Georgia Council of Adoption Lawyers, Inc. hereby make and establish this CODE OF ETHICS. Each Fellow of GCAL agrees as follows:
1.) A Fellow shall be duly licensed to practice law in Georgia, shall fully comply with the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct, and shall maintain the highest standards of professional and ethical conduct. A Fellow shall not engage in activities which bring discredit upon GCAL.
2.) A Fellow shall assure that the Fellow’s clients are aware of their legal rights and obligations in the adoption, and that all parties to the adoption are aware of their right to separate legal counsel.
3.) A Fellow may inform a client as to the Fellow’s understanding of the laws of a jurisdiction in which the Fellow is not licensed provided that the Fellow discloses that the Fellow is not licensed to practice in that jurisdiction.
4.) A Fellow shall not purport to represent both the prospective adopting parent(s) and one or both birth parents. Instead, a Fellow should inform the other party of his/her right to independent counsel.
5.) A Fellow shall actively discourage adoption fraud or misrepresentation, shall not engage in such conduct, and shall take all reasonable measures not inconsistent with the confidentiality of the attorney/client relationship to prevent adoption fraud or misrepresentation, withdrawing from representation where necessary to avoid participation in any such conduct.
6. ) (a) A Fellow shall assure that parties to an adoption are aware of any laws which govern permissible financial assistance to birth parents.
(b) A Fellow shall not assist or cooperate in any adoption in which the Fellow has reason to believe that the birth parent or parents are being paid, or given anything of value, in exchange for the placement for adoption, for the consent to an adoption, for a relinquishment for adoption, or for cooperation with the adoption of his or her child. This rule does not make it improper for a Fellow to assist or cooperate with an adoption in which the adoptive parents make, or another person acting on behalf of the adoptive parents makes, payment or reimbursement of the medical expenses directly related to the mother’s pregnancy and hospitalization for the birth of the child and medical care for the child as permitted under Georgia Law. Furthermore, this rule does not make it improper for a Fellow to assist or cooperate with an adoption in which the adoptive parents make, or another person on behalf of the adoptive parents makes, payment or reimbursement of expenses in an interstate independent adoption as allowed under the law of the state where the baby was born. Moreover, this rule does not make it improper for a Fellow to assist or cooperate with an adoption in which the adoptive parents, through a private agency, provide financial support to a birth parent as permitted under Georgia law and regulations.
7.) A Fellow shall assure that the Fellow’s fee arrangement with each client is carefully explained and fully understood by the client at the time the Fellow accepts employment by an adoption client, and the fee agreement shall be in writing, wherever practicable.
8.) A Fellow shall not enter into an agreement for, charge, or collect an illegal or unconscionable fee. Advanced fees collected by a Fellow shall be returned to the client if not commensurate with the services that have been provided by the Fellow. A Fellow shall not, directly or indirectly, charge a finder’s fee for locating a birth parent. In determining whether a fee is unconscionable, the factors to be considered shall include, but not be limited to, the following:
(a) The amount of the fee in proportion to the value of the services performed;
(b) The novelty and difficulty of the questions involved and the skill requisite to perform the legal services properly;
(c) The time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances;
(d) The time and labor required; and
(e) The experience, reputation and ability of the Fellow performing the services.
9.) A Fellow shall not possess a financial stake in the success of any adoption in which the Fellow is retained as counsel for any party. A Fellow shall be considered to have a financial stake in an adoption if the Fellow enters into a fee agreement by which the Fellow is to receive a greater fee for a successful adoption than is warranted based upon the reasonable value of the services performed by the Fellow or if the Fellow enters into a fee agreement in which the Fellow is contractually entitled to a lesser fee than the reasonable value of the services performed by the Fellow if the attempted adoption is unsuccessful.
10.) A Fellow shall disburse client trust funds only for those purposes specifically authorized by the client, and the Fellow shall not exercise independent judgment or discretion over trust fund disbursements unless the client has specifically authorized the exercise and scope of such discretion. A Fellow shall promptly account for all client funds held by the Fellow, upon request by the client, and shall promptly reimburse to the client all client funds upon request by the client or upon completion of the case.
11.) A Fellow shall comply with O.C.G.A. § 19-8-24(a) and not advertise in a manner that will suggest that the Fellow will arrange for children to be placed for adoption, nor shall the Fellow make any other false or misleading claims in advertisements. A Fellow may suggest to clients, however, that they may communicate by private means their desire to adopt. A Fellow shall comply with those guidelines regarding advertising as, from time to time, may be established by GCAL or by its Board.
12.) (a) A Fellow shall extend every possible professional courtesy to other Fellows and to the clients of other Fellows. Specifically, in the case of a failed match between birth parents and potential adoptive parents, if a Fellow is offered employment in an adoption where a birth parent has previously consulted with another Fellow, the Fellow shall forthwith contact the other Fellow to confer regarding the matter. If a birth parent has previously consulted with another Fellow, and has received financial assistance from the other Fellow or clients represented by the other Fellow, the Fellow shall endeavor, if possible, to secure reimbursement of the financial assistance from the subsequently matched potential adoptive parents to the potential adoptive parents in the failed match, so long as the reimbursement represents legally permissible and reasonable expenses.
(b) A Fellow shall not induce or encourage a birth parent to change attorney representation unless the Fellow is aware that the original attorney is not knowledgeable in the field of adoption law.
(c) A Fellow shall not induce or encourage a birth parent to change selection of prospective adopting parents unless the Fellow knows or has a good faith reason to believe that the proposed adopting parents cannot obtain court approval of a placement with them.
13.) A Fellow shall not enter into any agreement with any person which would have the effect of restricting the Fellow’s ability to exercise independent professional judgment on behalf of the Fellow’s clients.
14.) A Fellow may, when appropriate and/or when requested by a client, refer parties to competent and professional medical providers, legal counsel, psychological counselors, or adoption agencies. A Fellow shall avoid any appearance of impropriety and shall advise the parties of any family or professional relationship between the Fellow and any other professional to whom the Fellow may refer a party, including a doctor, hospital, counselor, or birth coach. A Fellow shall fully disclose to the parties any financial benefit received by the Fellow from any professional, organization, or counselor to whom a party may be referred by a Fellow, or any financial benefit bestowed by the Fellow upon any other person or entity for referring a party to the Fellow.
15.) A Fellow shall be under a duty to investigate representations made to the Fellow by prospective birth parents and prospective adopting parents if the Fellow believes or has reason to believe that such representation is false. Under all other circumstances, a Fellow may ethically rely upon representations made by the parties to an adoption.
16.) A Fellow should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono public legal services per year in the field of adoption. In fulfilling this responsibility, the Fellow should provide a substantial portion of the (50) hours of legal services without fee or expectation of fee to:
(a) persons of limited means; or
(b) charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters which are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means.
17.) Any changes or amendments to GCAL’s Code of Ethics shall be made in the same manner as set forth in Article II of the Bylaws of Georgia Council of Adoption Lawyers, Inc.