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Value delivered by law firms: the perspectives of consequentialism and deontology

Two schools of thought about ethics afford us a different way to think about value delivered by law firms. Consequentialism is the ethical view that what is right is what brings about good results. That is the summary in A.C. Grayling, Ideas that Matter: the concepts that shape the 21st century (Basic Books 2010) at 89. Deontology is the view that “rightness or wrongness of an action is intrinsic to the action itself, and is quite independent of whatever consequences follow from its performance.”

If we apply those two ethical concepts to the services of law firms, we could say that the value of those services depends on the outcome – the utilitarian assessment of what the company obtains as a result. Who cares about staff and processes (maybe even quality of work or cost) if the company achieves its goal?

Or, we could posit that the value of the services inheres in the work the firm does, regardless of the outcome. After all, the law firm may play a bit role to compared to business decisions and realities. Often outcomes have very little to do with the contributions of the law firm.

Most general counsel lean, I suspect, toward results obtained and don’t care about the process to get there. To put it simply, consequentialism trumps deontology.