You are here

Two out of three legal professionals find it hard to ‘do the right thing’

New research recommends a review of ethics education within the legal profession

25 November 2014

Add comment

Sixty per cent of legal professionals struggle with moral ethics at some point during their careers, a new report has revealed.

The report, compiled by the University of Birmingham's, examined the views of 943 solicitors, barristers and law students on the subject of moral ethics within the legal profession.

The characteristics considered to be the most important to be a good lawyer are judgement and honesty, according to 84 per cent of solicitors and 93 per cent of barristers respectively.

Though the research found the majority of practitioners act appropriately, dutifully and ethically, the report expressed concern about future moral standards and ethical dilemmas within the profession.

The report makes mention of behaviour that may be regarded as fraudulent, leading to the conclusion that more emphasis needs to be placed on ethics education throughout a legal professional's career.

Sixty per cent of respondents stated they occasionally feel morally conflicted about their work and find it difficult to 'do the right thing' in their job.

The report also found that 16 per cent of solicitors would be prepared to accept guidance from a colleague to 'round-up' billing hours, even if this may be regarded as fraudulent.

Meanwhile, five per cent of experienced solicitors would not report misuse of clients' accounts.

The report asserts that little emphasis is placed on either formal and informal ethics education, within universities or legal firms, and that increased attention to such education could hold the key to improved standards throughout the industry.

Commenting on the report's findings, professor Hywel Thomas, of the University of Birmingham and co-author of the report, said: "The legal industry is built on public trust, often requiring those working in the sector to make morally-sound judgements on a daily basis.

"While the legal profession is by no means in the midst of a moral crisis, there is concern within the sector that not all members of the profession are committed to, and have an understanding of, morally good practice."

Holdsworth continued: "With recent cuts to the Legal Aid budget adding to demands on the moral character of lawyers, this understanding of ethical practice is more important than ever.

"Our research suggests that the weak link may be the lack of focus on ethics within undergraduate law courses and in informal work-place learning. That is why the Jubilee Centre is recommending a review of ethics education within the legal profession."

The series of surveys and interviews with participants showed that morality, judgement, perseverance, perspective and fairness are the personal attributes rated above all others within the legal profession.

The report is being launched by the president of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, this evening. The full report 'Virtuous Character for the Practice of Law' can be viewed here.

John van der Luit-Drummond is legal reporter for Solicitors Journal

Categorised in:

Risk & Compliance Education & Training