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.
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