Perhaps the most elusive area of law is that of legal ethics. While the term itself is easy to define,' the subject all but defies codification because ethics, or morals (the terms are interchangeable), cannot be encapsulated by or in law. This is because law, in general, contains its own standard of validity on which there is usually clear societal consensus. For example, murder, rape, and theft are morally repugnant universally. Hence, punishment for any of these offenses does not impinge upon religious or individual autonomy because there is no ethical freedom to choose whether or not to engage in the conduct that would constitute the offense.

Most ethical dilemmas faced by practicing lawyers involve conflicts between a lawyer's duty of zealous representation of a client, and the duty of truthfulness and fairness to a party other than the client. The extent of the problem is illustrated in the preamble to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct (Model Rules), which states that "[v]irtually all difficult ethical problems arise from the conflict between a lawyer's responsibilities to clients, to the legal system and to the lawyer's own interest in remaining an upright person while earning a satisfactory living." The problem is especially pronounced in the area of tax practice, in which various rules of ethics collide in force because of the nature of the practice, which differs in two important respects from other types of law practice.