Ethical Infrastructure of Law Firms

Dr. Purushothaman
December 12, 2013

Ethical infrastructure of law firms may have at least as much to do with causing and avoiding unjustified harm as do the individual values and practice skills of individual lawyers.Firms must involve their staffs in a collective and educational process of determining the ethical dilemmas, challenges and temptations that arise and determining the norms, sanctions and institutional supports required to minimize the dilemmas and temptations. Professional firms need to recognize their role in promoting, articulating, interpreting and realizing professional values that justify the existence of the profession. They need to be explicit about the values their firm stands for, consistent with the values of the profession and reflecting the work of that firm, with its own clients and areas of specialty.It is at the point of designing internal processes to encourage higher standards of practice that we want to emphasize the importance of reward. Moving up the behavioral continuum, what is relevant is the extent of praise that is received.In general, people act the way they think they are expected to act and for which they are rewarded by praise or money.
Firms need to adopt institutional means to ensure that internal rewards are not available to those who weaken compromise or avoid professional values.In conjunction with firms, professions should require the establishment of an 'ethical regime', processes for ethical leadership and processes that ensure that the highest rewards go to those who are furthering the values of the profession rather than merely making more money for the firm.The profession might, itself, reward professional firms that take this exercise seriously with 'integrity ratings'. If they do not, some independent body might seek to do this. Ultimately, this should not cost the firm as a reputation for integrity is a vital asset in today marketplace. If firms distinguish themselves on pursuing higher standards and others fail to match them, the latter should not be surprised if they, and their clients, are subject to greater external scrutiny.New theories of moral and participatory leadership, based on engagement and dialogue rather than control, with the 'ability to shape and alter not just ideals but motives, desires or valuing' of members of the organization, are relevant.
The profession should not stick together to protect members who have betrayed the values espoused by the profession. Indeed we would argue that one who has betrayed these values has lost the right to be called a professional. However, the tendency of many professionals and their associations has been to view colleagues who have engaged in misconduct as merely straying too far over the line dividing minimum standards from misconduct and even criminal behavior.This is not to deny the possibility of the rehabilitation of those professionals who have offended against the law or engaged in lesser forms of misconduct, but merely to argue that their colleagues should not protect them from disclosure and disciplinary action.A lack of professional toleration for misconduct in conjunction with institutional encouragement of reporting will make it more likely that colleagues will report misbehavior without fear of being victimized as whistle blowers.

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