The continued existence of a free and democratic society depends upon recognition of the concept that justice is based upon the rule of law grounded in respect for the dignity of the individual and the capacity through reason for enlightened self-government. Law so grounded makes justice possible, for only through such law does the dignity of the individual attain respect and protection. Without it, individual rights become subject to unrestrained power, respect for law is destroyed, and rational self-government is impossible.
Lawyers, as guardians of the law, play a vital role in the preservation of society. The fulfillment of this role requires an understanding by lawyers of their relationship with and function in our legal system. A consequent obligation of lawyers is to maintain the highest standards of ethical conduct.
In fulfilling professional responsibilities, a lawyer necessarily assumes various roles that require the performance of many difficult tasks. Not every situation that a lawyer may encounter can be foreseen, but fundamental ethical principles are always present as guidelines. Within the framework of these principles, a lawyer must with courage and foresight be able and ready to shape the body of the law to the ever-changing relationships of society.
The Rules of Professional Conduct point the way to the aspiring lawyer and provide standards by which to judge the transgressor. Each lawyer must find within their own conscience the touchstone against which to test the extent to which their actions should rise above minimum standards. But in the last analysis it is the desire for the respect and confidence of the members of the legal profession and the society that the lawyer serves that should provide to a lawyer the incentive for the highest possible degree of ethical conduct. The possible loss of that respect and confidence is the ultimate sanction. So long as its practitioners are guided by these principles, the law will continue to be a noble profession. This is its greatness and its strength, which permit of no compromise.
These Fundamental Principles of the Rules of Professional Conduct are taken from the former Preamble to the Rules of Professional Conduct as approved and adopted by the Supreme Court in 1985. Washington lawyers and judges have looked to the 1985 Preamble as a statement of our overarching aspiration to faithfully serve the best interests of the public, the legal system, and the efficient administration of justice. The former Preamble is preserved here to inspire lawyers to strive for the highest possible degree of ethical conduct, and these Fundamental Principles should inform many of our decisions as lawyers. The Fundamental Principles do not, however, alter any of the obligations expressly set forth in the Rules of Professional Conduct, nor are they intended to affect in any way the manner in which the Rules are to be interpreted or applied.