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Corporate Lawyers: Ethics, Regulation and Purpose

Explore the role and purpose of corporate lawyers, examining how they are regulated and the ethical challenges they face.

4,382 enrolled on this course

The skyline of the City of London, tall glass clad skyscrapers
  • Duration

    3 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

Imagine you are a lawyer advising a client wanting to take over a large company. From your discussions with the client, you think it likely that, after they buy the company, several thousand of the company’s employees will be made redundant by your client. Such redundancies will be perfectly legal. Do you, as a lawyer, have an obligation to counsel your clients on the ethics of making those employees redundant? Or is it none of your business? Are you instead simply there to do what the client asks you to do, as long as that request is within the bounds of the law?

In this free, three-week course, we will teach you about the role of lawyers in society and about how they can (and should) balance their obligations to their clients against wider obligations to the public interest. We will cover how different lawyers are regulated, and explore key debates in lawyers’ ethics: how we might decide whether what lawyers do is right or wrong.

Explore the rights and wrongs corporate lawyers face

During the course, we will look at the different ways in which we can theorise about lawyers’ ethics, and we will then apply those theories to a series of case studies: some general (in Week 2); some focussing on specific research on corporate lawyers working for the world’s largest law firms (in Week 3).

We will talk with experts in legal ethics and the regulation of lawyers about their views on the proper role of lawyers in society. We will also talk with members of the public, and invite you to share your experiences and opinions. And we will talk with practising lawyers and with the regulators of legal services.

The course has been developed by the Centre for Professional Legal Education and Research (CEPLER), which is part of the Law School at the University of Birmingham.

CEPLER is the largest centre in the UK dedicated to the legal profession and questions of legal education. It has strong links with the profession, giving you the opportunity to learn with world-leading academics, the majority of whom are also practitioners.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 4 seconds [Music] I’m Dr Steven Vaughan, Senior Lecturer in the Law School at the University of Birmingham. I began my career as a corporate lawyer working in the City of London before I made the move into academia. Here in Birmingham, the Centre for Professional Legal Education and Research is a core part of our Law School. I’m CEPLER’s Director of Research and the Centre acts as a bridge between the academic world of law and the world of legal practice. Around 400,000 people work in legal services in England & Wales and the sector contributes £27bn to the economy each year. As individuals we turn to lawyers at some of the most important

Skip to 0 minutes and 56 seconds times in our lives - times of opportunity, crisis and stress: if we get divorced, if someone dies, if we buy a house. And as businesses, we turn to lawyers to help structure transactions, to buy and sell companies, to raise finance, and to conduct litigation. Independent from the state, lawyers are a critical part of the rule of law, a core element in our society. But what we do we really know about them? From TV and from film, we might think it’s all about criminal law and courtroom drama, but the real world of lawyering is far more complex, far more diverse and far, far more interesting.

Skip to 1 minute and 36 seconds [Music] CEPLER’s academics are experts in lawyers’ ethics, in the regulation of legal services, and in legal education. As such we are uniquely placed to open up to you the world of lawyering and to engage you in challenging questions about the proper role of lawyers in society

Skip to 2 minutes and 3 seconds and about lawyers’ ethics: how we might decide whether what lawyers do is right or wrong. My own particular area of research looks at corporate and finance lawyers advising multinational corporation from in some of the world’s largest law firms. These law firms employ thousands of lawyers based in dozens of offices across the globe and they’re billion dollar businesses. In this free course we’ll look at what those corporate lawyers actually do, we’ll ask whether they’re too close to their corporate clients, and we’ll look at the ethical challenges and dilemmas that they face, all wrapped and framed in the research I’ve undertaken on the world’s largest firms.

Skip to 2 minutes and 43 seconds During the course we will speak with lawyers in practice, with the regulators, with CEPLER’s experts, with law students and with members of the public – we will ask whether these lawyers get paid too much money? What does it mean to be a professional? And how do we decide if a lawyer has acted unethically? We will invite you to share your experiences and your opinions, and to join us in debating these key issues, that are so important, both for lawyers in practice and for society as a whole. [Music] Join us as we begin our study of lawyers, their proper role in society and fascinating questions of legal ethics in the real world.

What topics will you cover?

Which lawyers provide which legal services in England & Wales and how are they regulated?

What is the purpose of lawyers in society and how can they serve the public good while also serving their clients?

Why is legal ethics important to understanding the day-to-day professional lives of lawyers?

What ethical challenges do corporate finance lawyers face in their working lives and how can they respond better to those pressures?

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of principles, concepts and terms central to the regulation of legal services in England & Wales;
  • Identify ethical challenges faced by solicitors in England & Wales and justify solutions;
  • Improve your critical, analytical skills in relation to legal ethics;
  • Describe, articulate and engage with relevant professional and ethical issues in legal services.

Who is the course for?

The course will be of interest to anyone who is captivated by lawyers, big business and questions of right and wrong. You might be a current or future law student, a practising lawyer, a regulator, or a member of the public.

The course will take an interactive approach, allowing you to both share your own opinions and experiences of lawyers, and learn from experts in legal ethics and legal services regulation. All jargon will be explained, so that you can join in without any specialist knowledge.

Who will you learn with?

Dr Steven Vaughan is a solicitor and academic who researches lawyers' ethics and regulation in the Centre for Professional Legal Education and Research (CEPLER) at the University of Birmingham.

Who developed the course?

University of Birmingham

The University of Birmingham is a public research university, consistently listed as a leading UK university and ranked among the top 100 in the world.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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