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Skip to 0 minutes and 29 seconds SPEAKER 1: How would I describe an ethical lawyer? That is a very good question.

Skip to 0 minutes and 36 seconds Good job this isn’t a job interview. I wouldn’t be doing very well.

Skip to 0 minutes and 39 seconds SPEAKER 2: How would you describe an ethical lawyer?

Skip to 0 minutes and 42 seconds SPEAKER 3: There are going to be levels. You’ve got someone who does the bare minimum and someone who is extremely ethical and pushes ethics all the way. I’m assuming you want something which is in the middle of all of that. An ethical lawyer will be– no actually, maybe I would think of someone who was more into pushing the ethics of the deal and being someone who did worry about that sort of impact on the country or the end result, and actually looked into it. Because I guess I just don’t look into it. I just take the deal as face value. Has to be someone else has thought about it.

Skip to 1 minute and 14 seconds SPEAKER 2: So does that mean you’re an unethical lawyer or you’re just not a strongly ethical lawyer?

Skip to 1 minute and 20 seconds SPEAKER 3: It depends. I wouldn’t say I was unethical. I just don’t push ethics on things. It’s a difficult one, isn’t it?

Skip to 1 minute and 26 seconds SPEAKER 4: I think somebody who clearly has a set of core values that they profess to abide by, and those don’t necessarily have to be the values that have been impressed upon them by external regulation or the firm that they act for. They can simply be personal values. So forget the SRA, forget the law. Ultimately, deep down inside, what are those things that you as an individual just will or will not do?

Skip to 1 minute and 47 seconds SPEAKER 5: Somebody who is conscious of, alive to the morality of the situation, of the wider community interest, by which I mean the interest of the wider firm and the community in which we operate, both business and non-business.

Skip to 2 minutes and 0 seconds SPEAKER 6: I think that an ethical lawyer ought to be worrying, frankly, about the advice that they give and the reasons why they’re being asked to give it and the consequences of that advice on a daily basis, if not consciously, then subconsciously.

Skip to 2 minutes and 15 seconds SPEAKER 2: On a day to day basis, how often does ethics come to your mind?

Skip to 2 minutes and 19 seconds SPEAKER 7: Not very often, thankfully. I don’t have to ask myself ethical questions very often, I think.

Skip to 2 minutes and 25 seconds SPEAKER 2: Because you’re not in situations which would–

Skip to 2 minutes and 28 seconds SPEAKER 7: I don’t see or I don’t come across situations where I need to ask myself or require or it’s desirable to ask myself the questions or to raise any points of ethics. I don’t remember coming across an ethical sort of situation as such.

Skip to 2 minutes and 44 seconds SPEAKER 8: I don’t want to kind of diminish the importance of it, but at the same time you know it’s not like we’re doing Children Act applications or something of that nature. It’s far more from a business focus.

The Ethical Corporate Finance Lawyer

Read the below information on how the corporate finance lawyers Steven interviewed understood who an ‘ethical lawyer’ might be and then watch the video in which members of Birmingham Law School read out from the transcripts of the interviews.

The interviews with corporate finance lawyers included specific questions on ethics. Steven began by asking the interviewees this question:

‘How you would describe an ethical lawyer?’

This question, the same that Steven asked you in Week 2, was both intentionally broad and intentionally referred to an hypothetical third party. The aim in so doing was to be able to contrast how interviewees would describe the hypothetical ethical lawyer with how they acted in their own practices. If the professional principles we discussed in Week 2 were an important and meaningful dimension of ethicality, we might expect lawyers to draw closely on and reference these principles from the Handbook. As we shall see, they did not.

The lawyers’ answers reflected a very broad range. The vast majority made reference to compliance with the law. Some of these wrapped that compliance with either acting in the best interests of the client or not doing anything illegal for the client: this is perhaps a rather limited understanding of ethicality.

Of those who referenced values or morals, honesty and integrity were commonly cited principles. A handful talked about the ethical lawyer adhering to the spirit or purpose of the law. Women lawyers were more likely than men to frame their responses in terms of values or character. We might find this an interesting difference.

Watch the video and hear what some of the interviewees said. Then reflect on any new information or ideas that you have come across, and 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