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Skip to 0 minutes and 29 seconds SPEAKER 1: How would you describe professional independence?

Skip to 0 minutes and 33 seconds SPEAKER 2: Crikey. I’ve never even heard the expression. Is that as an individual or a practice?

Skip to 0 minutes and 40 seconds SPEAKER 3: With these really big clients, you’ve always got to make sure that you’re dealing with them eye to eye, rather than on your knees.

Skip to 0 minutes and 49 seconds SPEAKER 4: Not being beholden, I think is a good way of putting it. If you’re beholden to someone, then you can’t exercise your independent judgement. Beholden can be anything from literally being a bit of a crook to just being too dependent on a big client, having someone who’s too much of a mate. If you’ve got someone he’s a really good friend who works for a client, you’d probably want to try and make sure that somebody gives you your instructions.

Skip to 1 minute and 12 seconds SPEAKER 5: I don’t know if’ I’d ever– how often I would think of myself as being independent as a strong part of my offering. And it’s not something that you ever, ever use in a pitch. You actually go more the other way and say, we would like to be a part of the team, we want to understand your business. If there is a commercial term that they win at the expense of the other party, then absolutely it’s in my interest to act in their best interest, my obligation to act in their best interest and win that point. And is that independence? That’s not. That’s fighting their corner, isn’t it?

Skip to 1 minute and 44 seconds SPEAKER 6: I mean I suppose professional independence means that you advise on the basis of what you consider to be the relevant aspects and you resist attempts by your clients to push you into a particular conclusion.

Skip to 1 minute and 56 seconds SPEAKER 7: I think you’ve got to be independent. Being a service, you’ve got to understand the commercial work that your client does to understand the nature of their business, so you can give some constructive and meaningful advice to them in the situation that they’re in. I think maybe clients thought, well, if they’re a service industry, they better get on and serve, which is a different perspective. I’ve not agreed with that. Some clients think, you know, who pays the piper calls the tune. That sort of thing, which is something you have to resist.

Skip to 2 minutes and 25 seconds SPEAKER 8: We are here to give commercial legal advice and if one was still think that commercial legal advice could be in some way altered because of the proximity of a relationship, that wouldn’t be right. That said, the proximity of a relationship on a commercial level, and understanding your client, is extremely important, because that does help you to shape the commerciality of the advice that you are giving.

Skip to 2 minutes and 52 seconds SPEAKER 9: Because most law firms, we’re hired hands and were instructed to do things, and if your client says, I want you to go in there and be a poodle. You go and be a poodle. And if they say, I want you to go there and rip these guys to pieces. That’s what you try and do. There’s a lot of that behavior. That is always the way. But in terms of people crossing the line of ethics, I don’t think so.

Skip to 3 minutes and 13 seconds SPEAKER 10: I think we’ve always been independent in the sense that I don’t think it’s any more possible now to buy advice that you want than it was previously. But it’s certainly possible to get much better economic times than you ever could as a client.

Skip to 3 minutes and 26 seconds SPEAKER 11: It’s hugely important and I think we all regard it as hugely important to be able to say no to a client. I’m struggling to think of a situation where I felt under pressure to take on a piece of work that I hadn’t wanted to take on. And certainly, I’ve never been asked to do anything improper.

Skip to 3 minutes and 42 seconds SPEAKER 12: Most grown up law firms behave in an appropriate way with their clients. I don’t see, even with my firm, even our top 10 global clients, who very important to our firm– I can’t think of a single incident where the undue influence of one of those clients put the firm in a position where we were not complying with our general professional duties.

Skip to 4 minutes and 5 seconds SPEAKER 13: I think lawyers are regarded as being part of the service industry. And with most service industries, the client can dictate the speed and the scope of what they want to be delivered. So I think it has much moved towards the client specifying what they want out of their lawyers and managing the whole process, rather than saying to the lawyers, can you give me some advice because I’m consulting you as a professional?

What Corporate Finance Lawyers Understand About Independence

Watch this video in which members of Birmingham Law School read out from the transcripts of interviews Steven has conducted with corporate finance lawyers over the last three years. Having just learned about professional independence, reflect on how these corporate finance lawyers understand the concept and what it means, and does not mean, to them.

Over the last three years, Steven has interviewed over 200 lawyers for his research. In this video you will hear the voices of members of Birmingham Law School reading out from the transcripts of some of those interviews. You will also hear Steven playing the part of the interviewer. The video looks at the concept of independence. In the interviews, Steven asked his interviewees how they would describe professional independence and to tell him why they thought it might be important.

What Steven found was that many of the interviewees believed that professional independence was ‘important’ while simultaneously possessing a limited understanding of the concept. Some expressed ignorance, while a handful rejected the relevance of the concept altogether. The responses from the interviewees suggested an orientation to professional values which privileges client interest above all others. This is interesting as we learned last week that the SRA does not rank the 10 Principles at the front of its Handbook (and so acting in the best interests of your client is not ranked, by the regulator, as higher that acting with independence).

In the video you will hear what the lawyers Steven interviewed had to say about the concept of independence. Watch the video, reflect on any new information or ideas that you have come across, then share your thoughts in the discussion area.

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This video is from the free online course:

Corporate Lawyers: Ethics, Regulation and Purpose

University of Birmingham