Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the University of Birmingham's online course, Corporate Lawyers: Ethics, Regulation and Purpose. Join the course to learn more.

An Introduction to Lawyer’s Ethics

Last week, we saw that notions of the public good are infused with ideas of what it means to be a professional. The Law Society says this about the importance of ethics to the work of solicitors:

“A solicitor’s commitment to behaving ethically is at the heart of what it means to be a solicitor.”

99% of solicitors who completed a survey by The Law Society on ethics believed that the level of ethical behaviour required of a solicitor is something that sets them apart from the general public.

Forty years ago the American legal scholar Charles Fried asked the question: ‘Can a good lawyer be a good person?’ The answer over those intervening five decades has been, at various times and for various people: yes; no; and maybe. The challenge here is that lawyers may be required, or may choose, to do things for their clients that we might find, on some levels, morally questionable: the lawyer who defends a known rapist; the lawyer who helps a business buy a chemical factory which pollutes the environment, etc.

The concept of role morality suggests that people may have different morals – different ethical systems – when performing certain roles (e.g. when they are acting as a lawyer) to those they would have in other parts of their lives. So, for example, the lawyer who does not like smoking and thinks smoking is harmful acts for a tobacco company as a client of their law firm. The question becomes one of the extent to which, if at all, the lawyer’s own morals should impact on what they do for their clients.

Share this article:

This article is from the free online course:

Corporate Lawyers: Ethics, Regulation and Purpose

University of Birmingham