Everyone can agree on the importance of legal ethics: that is, legal representatives and practitioners – such as lawyers, advocates, solicitors, judges, and the police – acting in an ethical manner in both their professional and personal lives. If representatives of the law are found to be working unethically, it brings the law into disrepute. People may lose confidence in the legal system, and either cease to obey the laws of the land or be reluctant to seek legal action when they are the victim of a crime.
This should all be straightforward enough, but the matter becomes more complex when we ask what ethics are and how ethical compliance should be measured, practiced, and enforced. Are ethics a matter of personal conscience, or should there be a set of standards to which individuals, particularly those in a position of great trust and responsibility, should be held? If the latter, then who is responsible for setting out these ethical standards, and how can members of the profession be compelled to adhere to them?
Professional competencies for ethical practice are a key part of studying to be a Juris Doctor. Cleveland State University runs one the best online jd programs in the US – a program that is affordable and accessible for students from anywhere across the country. Understanding the difference between ethics and the law and how to uphold both is crucial for anyone hoping to work in the legal field.
Ethics refers to beliefs around what constitutes justice, fairness, and morality and the degree to which our actions should be by these principles. Although ethical codes are not always spelled out as such, most societies have a broadly-held definition of right and wrong moral behavior. However, on close examination, there may be a wider range of disagreement or uncertainty on the finer details than expected.
Ethics is a branch of philosophy and may be discussed, debated, and swayed by logic and reasoned argument. However, most religions include a strict ethical code that should always be followed(even if, in practice, most believers fall short to a greater or lesser degree). Beyond the broad strokes of widely-held ethics, an individual may have their ethical standards, which are often considered to be a private, personal matter, at least until they impinge on the rights of others. Beyond the broad strokes of widely-held ethics, an individual may have their ethical standards, which are often considered to be a private, personal matter, at least until they impinge on the rights of others. Beyond the broad strokes of widely-held ethics, an individual may have their ethical standards, which are often considered to be a private, personal matter, at least until they impinge on the rights of others. This policing of ethical behavior is seen as one of the main social functions of religion.
Ethics and the law
The law can be seen as a way to clarify and enforce ethical behavior, independent of religion, across a society. Regarding criminal law, if the organization decides that theft is ethically wrong, laws prohibit stealing and set penalties for those found guilty. Therefore, following the letter of the law should logically be the first duty of an ethical citizen.
However, as a manufactured construct that must evolve alongside the needs of a changing society, the law can never be perfect. One problem with the statute being considered an instrument for enforcing ethics is that it is necessarily skewed toward preventing and punishing bad behavior rather than encouraging and rewarding the good. Secondly, it is difficult for the law to recognize nuance, extenuating circumstances, or moral grey areas. As a result, situations can arise where there is a conflict between the demands of the law and one’s conscience.
For the law to be ethically just, it must be impartial and applied equally and fairly in every case. Paradoxically, this may sometimes result in prosecutions that seem unfair, where a sentence must be passed because a law has been broken, even if the “crime” appears to some to be morally justified (for instance, a starving person stealing food or, arguably, certain political protests).
Because the law must be seen as impartial, those involved in creating and administering the legal process must maintain the highest ethical standards at all times. It should go without saying that they must never break the law themselves. But they must also be morally upstanding, transparent in their personal and professional dealings, and mindful of avoiding potentially-compromising situations.
The American Bar Association has published model rules of professional conduct for lawyers, combining recommendations and guidance with rules that can be enforced by disciplinary action. This is the best place to start when deciding what constitutes ethical behavior within the profession. However, a lawyer or advocate sometimes must look to their conscience to guide them.
Honesty, integrity, and the proper relationship between a legal professional and their client are all primary concerns. Confidentiality, avoiding conflicts of interest, and fairness and transparency in financial matters are all of the utmost importance. In addition, a lawyer has an ethical duty to be competent, punctual, and respectful in their work. An individual practitioner should seek to adhere to the spirit of these ethical guidelines rather than merely technically sticking to them while pursuing a purpose that is antithetical to their intentions. An individual practitioner should seek to adhere to the spirit of these ethical guidelines rather than merely technically sticking to them while pursuing a purpose that is antithetical to their intentions. An individual practitioner should seek to adhere to the spirit of these ethical guidelines rather than merely technically sticking to them while pursuing a purpose that is antithetical to their intentions.
Strategies for maintaining professional integrity include making oneself accountable. This might mean undergoing periods of rigorous self-assessment in which one checks recent behavior against ethical standards, or it might mean submitting to an outside body. Keeping a checkable record of one’s meetings, transactions, and conversations is another way to be seen to be behaving ethically. Of course, this must be done in a way that respects and maintains client confidentiality and doesn’t reveal information that could affect a case in progress.
An independent legal profession is essential for maintaining the rule of law. The representatives of the law must conduct themselves according to clear and firm ethical principles while following the law itself. Although plentiful guidance exists to help practitioners do this, they must always hold themselves to high personal standards.