The long-known tensions faced by in-house lawyers between serving their employer and staying true to their professional obligations receive some tough probing in research published today – with fascinating insights. To what extent is the ethical imperative or ‘moral compass’ of in-house lawyers affected by their personal characteristics and by the overt, subliminal or cultural influences within their client-employer organisation? The short answer is that it is affected, by many influences, contexts and drivers, and to varying extents. As the lead author, Professor Richard Moorhead, says, the research report provides “as rich a picture of what it means to be an ethical in-house lawyer as has ever been attempted”. A summary is available, and the full report can be downloaded here.
Evidence of the tension in in-house legal practice is perhaps most acute in the finding that almost 50% of respondents agreed that actions were sometimes taken in their organisations that were against their advice on legally important matters. More than a third also agreed that loopholes in the law should be identified that benefit their employers. These and other findings raise interesting and important questions about the extent to which lawyers’ professional codes are being diligently applied by in-house lawyers. It might also perhaps prompt one to wonder ‘where were the lawyers?’ when various corporate scandals were being perpetrated….