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….
On 17 March 2016, at the invitation of the President of The Law Society of England & Wales, I delivered the keynote speech to the Society’s annual conference on legal aid. The report of the speech published by the Law Society Gazette (interestingly dated three days before it was actually delivered…) contains significant misrepresentations of both its content and tone.
Not for the first time, messages that I have taken time to consider and articulate carefully have been distorted by a journalist and then published as views that I did not in fact express or intend. I am reminded of the late, great Eric Morecambe describing how he played the piano: “all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order”. The Gazette report follows a similar pattern: some (though not all) of the right words, but out of context and not in the right order. Whether such distortions are deliberate or sloppy, I cannot tell; both undermine journalistic integrity.
For those who wish to read the real messages, in context, a full account is available here.
(An edited version of this post first appeared in The Times‘s The Brief on 8 January 2016)
As 2015 slides inexorably into 2016, we can ponder what differences this might bring to the world of legal services. The sands are definitely shifting, and the foundations of ‘old law’ continue to crumble as ‘new law’ takes greater hold. Let me explore three themes: demand, supply, and independence.