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Rule 3.1 Meritorious Claims and Contentions

A lawyer shall not bring or defend a proceeding, or assert or controvert an issue therein, unless there is a basis in law and fact for doing so that is not frivolous, which includes a good faith argument for an extension, modification or reversal of existing law. A lawyer for the defendant in a criminal proceeding, or the respondent in a proceeding that could result in incarceration, may nevertheless so defend the proceeding as to require that every element of the case be established.


[1] The advocate has a duty to use legal procedure for the fullest benefit of the client's cause, but also a duty not to abuse legal procedure. The law, both procedural and substantive, establishes the limits within which an advocate may proceed. However, the law is not always clear and never is static. Accordingly, in determining the proper scope of advocacy, account must be taken of the law's ambiguities and potential for change.

[2] The filing of an action or defense or similar action taken for a client is not frivolous merely because the facts have not first been fully substantiated or because the lawyer expects to develop vital evidence only by discovery. What is required of lawyers, however, is that they inform themselves about the facts of their clients' cases and the applicable law and determine that they can make good faith arguments in support of their clients' positions. Such action is not frivolous even though the lawyer believes that the client's position ultimately will not prevail. The action is frivolous, however, if the lawyer is unable either to make a good faith argument on the merits of the action taken or to support the action taken by a good faith argument for an extension, modification or reversal of existing law. 

[3] The lawyer's obligations under this Rule are subordinate to federal or state constitutional law that entitles a defendant in a criminal matter to the assistance of counsel in presenting a claim that otherwise would be prohibited by this Rule.

History Note: Statutory Authority G.S. 84-23

Adopted by the Supreme Court: July 24, 1997

Amendments Approved by the Supreme Court: March 1, 2003

Ethics Opinion Notes

CPR 122. An attorney representing the defendant in divorce action, when advised by the client that parties have not been separated a year, must file an answer denying the allegation of separation even though the client does not wish to contest the divorce.

CPR 321. It is improper for an attorney to file motions and pleadings for the mere purpose of delay.

2003 Formal Ethics Opinion 12. Opinion rules that an insurance defense lawyer may give the insured and the insurance carrier an evaluation of a pending case, including settlement prospects, but may not recommend that the carrier decline to settle and go to trial if this recommendation is contrary to the wishes of the insured.

2006 Formal Ethics Opinion 9. Opinion rules that if the lawyer concludes that pursuit of a lawsuit filed against a defendant is frivolous, but the GAL for the minor client insists on continuing the litigation, the lawyer must either move to withdraw from the representation or seek to have the GAL removed.

2008 Formal Ethics Opinion 3. Opinion rules a lawyer may assist a pro se litigant by drafting pleadings and giving advice without making an appearance in the proceeding and without disclosing or ensuring the disclosure of his assistance to the court unless required to do so by law or court order.

2008 Formal Ethics Opinion 4. Opinion rules that a lawyer may issue a subpoena in compliance with Rule 45 of the Rules of Civil Procedure which authorizes a subpoena for the production of documents to the lawyer's office without the need to schedule a hearing, deposition or trial.

2008 Formal Ethics Opinion 17. Opinion rules that a lawyer appointed to represent a parent at the trial of a juvenile case may file a notice of appeal to preserve the client's right to appeal although the lawyer does not believe that the appeal has merit.

2009 Formal Ethics Opinion 5. Opinion rules that a lawyer may serve the opposing party with discovery requests that require the party to reveal her citizenship status, but the lawyer may not report the status to ICE unless required to do so by federal or state law.

2009 Formal Ethics Opinion 15. Opinion rules that a prosecutor must dismiss a DWI charge when the prosecutor fails to appeal a court order suppressing evidence from the traffic stop thereby eliminating the evidence necessary to prove the charge.

2011 Formal Ethics Opinion 3. Opinion rules that a criminal defense lawyer may advise an undocumented alien that deportation may result in avoidance of a criminal conviction and may file a notice of appeal to superior court although there is a possibility that the client will be deported.

2013 Formal Ethics Opinion 1 . Opinion rules that, subject to conditions, a prosecutor may enter into an agreement to consent to vacating a conviction upon the convicted person’s release of civil claims against the prosecutor, law enforcement authorities, or other public officials or entities.

2016 Formal Ethics Opinion 2 . Opinion rules that, when advancing claims on behalf of a criminal defendant who filed a pro se Motion for Appropriate Relief, subsequently appointed defense counsel must correct erroneous claims and statements of law or facts set out in the previous pro se filing.

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