Law Faculty Articles and Research

Lawyers: Why We Are Different and Why We Are the Same: Creating Structural Incentives in Large Law Firms to Promote Ethical Behavior – In-House Ethics Counsel, Bill Padding, and In-House Ethics Training

Ronald D. Rotunda, Chapman University


University of Akron School of Law--29 Oct. 2010 Miller-Becker Professional Responsibility Distinguished Lecture Series I. INTRODUCTION In many ways, lawyers are different than other people. In other ways, we are, sadly, so much the same. What we often call "legal ethics" or "professional responsibility" is the law governing the practice of law. This law serves to make us different, but our compliance with it struggles against the fact that we are not born different: we struggle with the same demons as other mortals, and like them, we learn to rationalize our failings. And, when we believe that no one is looking, when we are anonymous, we are more likely to rationalize. The structure of the large, modern law firm makes it easier for lawyers to be anonymous and to hide in the crowd where they are more likely to develop bad ethical habits. Hence, large law firms in particular should support structural changes that serve to counterbalance and compensate our natural tendencies to justify our misbehavior when we believe that no one is looking. There are few things that law firms can do, and case law applying the attorney-client privilege can support those structural changes. But first, let us turn to the differences between lawyers and other professions. These differences are not merely a difference in degree; they are a difference in kind. II.