Why do lawyers in companies believe they hold higher moral standards than other employees?

I am a lawyer but I do not claim that lawyers are more moral than non-lawyers. That view would likely irritate and offend many people. What says lawyers are any holier than thou? Yet general counsel, or some of them at least, let it be known that they should have a special seat on the throne of goodness. They want to be the chief ethical officer (See my post of June 18, 2009: general counsel feel they should be the top ethics officer.). Likewise, what logic suggests that in-house counsel have any leg up when it comes to identifying or enforcing good behavior?

Start with the difference between integrity and morality. Integrity means to act or speak in a way that is consistent with what you said or believe (See my post of May 3, 2006: the law department as an “ethical beacon”; and Oct. 8, 2007: ethics assessments within law departments). You are aligned with and stick to your word. Morality means sorting out good and bad behavior (See my post of March 16, 2008: moral weaknesses of those who work in law departments.) and acting for the good. Showing integrity is easier than acting morally, and neither privileges lawyers.

A range of posts about in-house ethics appear on this blog (See my post of Aug. 27, 2005: reputational risk protector; May 3, 2006: lawyers empowered to do what they think is right; March 15, 2006: competencies include integrity; Feb. 19, 2006: subservience risk of decentralized in-house lawyers; Jan. 19, 2008: courage and integrity; Oct. 8, 2007: 180-degree ethical assessments; April 15, 2007: client satisfaction surveys that ask about ethical behavior; and Oct. 31, 2007: Linda DiSantis — a more enlightened ethical view.).

We welcome comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *