Robyn Allardice-Bourne examines a new book on the role of ethics in the legal profession which is timely in light of the ‘A Question of Trust’ campaign launched by the SRA and the new, more flexible, Code of Conduct.
By Mena Ruparel & Richard Burnham
There were two reactions to this book. Amongst older colleagues, a genuine interest in how to structure such a difficult area and, rather disturbingly, amongst the younger colleagues, a very dismissive approach. This just highlights the need for such a book.
The authors explore practical applications to develop ethical thinking and decision making. It is certainly not a book about ethical theories. This is a working book which explores scenarios and defines the difference between the rules based Solicitors Practice Rules 1990, the Solicitors Code of Conduct 2007, the outcomes-focused regulation (OFR) SRA Code of Conduct 2011, and the two proposed 2018 Codes of Conduct for solicitors and firms.
A busy caseload means that stopping to consider the ethical approach to take can easily be overlooked. It is a matter of training to recognise areas that need time to be considered before a decision is made. Professional standards are one part of that process and personal ethics is the other. Both should become an automatic process in your working life but it does take practice and guidance on occasion. It is important to realise that ethics and compliance are not necessarily the same.
There is a clear discussion on the 10 principles and an examination of establishing a methodology for applying those principles, and the expectation to act with professional integrity.
This is a must read book for Compliance Officers for Legal Practice (COLP) and Compliance Officers for Financial Administration (COFA), and for every solicitor to understand that the flexibility of the code still requires an analysis of actions. The duty to self-report requires an ability to step back and self-govern, remembering that the overarching obligation is to ensure the proper administration of justice.
The online course package really does make you think. Spotting the ethical traps is one thing, resolving them much more difficult. Each book has an allocated course code so you can return to the online course when you wish.
You will be familiar with the scenarios provided – most of us have been there at some point, so it is an interesting exercise to read this unique book and use the accompanying online course to re-examine those ‘tricky’ moments and learn from them.
My favourite chapter was the one on social media which dealt with online discussions and the risks of breaching confidential information. The book provides a brilliant table of social network, how it is regulated, whether private or public and specific risks. Everyone should read this and become familiar with it. With an enhanced ethical mind-set it will be possible to approach issues that arise more confidently.
At the end of the day, this book is a reminder that you need to know the right thing, do the right thing, and do so for the right reason.
Sometimes that can be trickier than it seems.