Trust and Ethics, has the legal sector lost its way?

I was asked to put up the text of my introduction to yesterday’s LSB panel event on lawyers’ ethics,.

For those who don’t know, I write various things on lawyers and often on lawyers’ ethics. In recent years I have covered allegations of some seriousness against lawyers in: Clifford Chance, Freshfields, Allen & Overy, Herbert Smith, Rolls Royce, Linklaters, Barclays, Stewarts Law, Decherts, RICSs, Fieldfisher, several QCs, one or two of which are in the Lords, Womble Bond Dickinson, Cartwright King, a sitting President of the Law Society, Lloyds HBOS, RBS. You’ll notice, and this is an important point, that these are not a list of lefty lawyers the Government have accused of working every angle for their clients. And in the last year or so I have written extensively on the Post Office, where lawyers inside and outside the Post office have participated in and, in my view, bear some responsibility for serious and extensive miscarriages of justice. And only yesterday, the independent Counsel to the PO Inquiry raised pointed questions about the involvement of one fo the most senior members of the criminal bar, and the man who has sat at the pinnacle of our judiciary. One of those lawyers has on his website a quote, to paraphrase a little, praising him for being a steamroller who flattens opponents.

It would not be the case that each of these stories proves an ethical problem but many do and they all gave rise to serious questions for the lawyers involved.

If I can emphasise my point, I talk to in-house lawyers and practitioners regularly, train some of them on ethics, and am told, regularly that even, or perhaps especially, leading firms, with one or two notable exceptions, do not take ethics sufficiently seriously. I have heard a leading COLP misstate ethical priorities as client first. And another leading partner, who advised the SRA regularly celebrate his and his partner’s ignorance of the SRA handbook. And I have listened to sometimes toe-curling stories of in-house lawyers either slipping into or pressured into ethical lapses of sometimes profound significance. Sometimes, often perhaps, ruining their lives and mental health as a consequence. So I have a view on the question but so too do our speakers…

You can read some of their views, expertly summarised by Neil Rose here.

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