At the start of this book, four approaches to how we might decide what is ethical behaviour for lawyers were introduced. Zealous, client-focused lawyering – adversarial advocacy – was contrasted with lawyering that counterbalances client advocacy with upholding the responsibilities and duties of citizens to society – responsible lawyering. A third approach, moral activism, sees the ethical duties of lawyering as being not so much in vigorously asserting clients’ rights, or the Rule of Law, as in actively doing one's best in the interests of justice. Finally, the ethics of care sees the ethical virtues of all three of the preceding approaches as overrated in comparison with the importance of caring for and respecting the needs and moral aspirations of each client, each witness, even each opponent with whom the lawyer may come in contact, as well as actively cultivating their own virtue as a person and a lawyer.
Underpinning each of these approaches are the general moral categories of consequentialism, Kantian ethics and classical virtue ethics. An understanding of general morality enriches our grasp of the strengths and limitations of our four lawyer-specific approaches to ethical decision-making, such that carefully considered decisions are likely to involve both general morality and one or more of the four approaches.
In practice, of course, lawyers can and do move around among these ideal types and their general moral sensitivity. The zealous adversarial advocate might still be dominant, but even the determined and courageous criminal barrister can and does change into the quiet and despairing carer, standing, if they are so permitted, near their condemned client when the trapdoor drops. Consider, for example, the case of Nguyen Tuong Van, aged 25, of Melbourne, who was hanged in Singapore on 2 December 2005 for smuggling 496 grams of heroin through Changi Airport in 2002. His Australian lawyers, Justice Lex Lasry (then a QC) and Julian McMahon AC, represented him fearlessly and expertly throughout his trial and subsequent international pleas for mercy. When those pleas were rejected by Singapore, the two lawyers, who had always acted pro bono out of compassion, applied without success simply to be present at the hanging, for no other purpose but to stand alongside their client.