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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: April 2019

9 - Corporate Lawyers and Corporate Misconduct



While the work of lawyers can ensure ‘law is still the most powerful instrument for creating and maintaining a world that is free, rational and just’, it can also have a dark side. Global tobacco companies, with the help of both their in-house and external lawyers, continue their fight against tobacco control measures such as bans on advertising and plain packaging. Indeed, a recent decision by an arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration found Philip Morris Asia's challenge to Australia's plain packaging laws to be an ‘abuse of rights’, essentially because it amounted to impermissible forum shopping. Other revelations, such as the Panama Papers leak, show how lawyers and law firms sometimes help wealthy individuals evade tax and engage in other illegal conduct through shell companies, strategic use of different regulatory regimes in different countries and the use of confidentiality and privilege. It has been suggested that many corporate lawyers (by which we mean both in-house and external lawyers advising corporations) are ‘ethically apathetic: neither good nor bad, but rather indifferent and unenthusiastic when it comes to the ethics of what they do and the impacts their work may have’. Sometimes it seems that enthusiasm is reserved only for a client service ethos. In 2005, the large national Australian law firm, Allens Arthur Robinson (‘Allens’) won the Business Review Weekly – St George ‘Client Choice’ awards for being best large law firm, and also best large professional services firm of the year. The managing partner was quoted explaining how the firm had won these accolades:

We don't run this place as a holiday camp … We expect our people to treat the client as if they were God and to put themselves out for clients. You don't say ‘Sorry I can't do it, I'm playing cricket on the weekend’ … You don't have a right to any free time.

This subservient attitude has obvious negative impacts on lawyers’ own wellbeing, their ability to engage in caring relationships with their friends and families and to spend time cultivating their own personal ethical and political beliefs. It also means they have little free time and thought to devote to learning about and coming to an opinion on important social, environmental and justice issues and getting involved in action on those causes.