Professional unease

Stefan Stern’s FT column Pssst . . . get smart and wipe out whistleblowing some weeks ago had a telling quote from Dov Seidman, founder and chairman of LRN, a US based business ethics consultancy. After reporting Seidman’s view that ‘ethical clarity cannot be established quickly’, Stern quotes what Seidman told the Journal of Leadership and Organisational Studies,

“Doing the right thing” is not a painless option either. . . I actually think that in many cases doing the right thing is often inconvenient . . . Sometimes that is exactly when you know you are doing the right thing, when it feels so inconvenient.”

I carry around with me a (now dog eared) copy of Practical morality for lawyers by the great Bill Knight, one of the doyens of corporate law in the City. This article is only available by subscription to PLC , which is a great pity as every lawyer should read it. In it he anatomises the dilemma that most of us face at some stage or other in our professional careers, ‘when your client wants to do something which is legal, but in your view highly questionable’, and in the doing of it will be looking to you for help and advice.

As Knight notes

Look hard; this is dangerous territory. One day you’re devising off-balance sheet structures, the next you’re letting the senior executives get rich on them, then you’re shredding documents and, before you know it, you are explaining to your family that you may not be seeing them for some time.

It all seems so easy but sometimes, especially when a valued client asks a favour, and times are hard, it isn’t.

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