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The Ethics of Corporate Lawyers: A Sociological Approach

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2018

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The American Bar Association is considering a revision of its Code of Professional Responsibility. One revision deals specifically with lawyers whose clients are organizations; it attempts to delineate the ethical responsibilities of such lawyers when they discover an employee or a member of one of their clients is engaged in wrongdoing on the organization's behalf. Because the proposal suggests that corporate counsel may be justified in public disclosure of the wrongdoing when the organization itself fails to rectify the problem, it has sparked much controversy in the profession and much speculation as to whether and when corporate counsel will “blow the whistle.” The article offers a sociological perspective on the act of a corporate counsel's public disclosure of organizational wrongdoing. The act of disclosure is treated as a social behavior, the likelihood of which is increased or decreased by a number of factors including the attorney's awareness of the wrongdoing, the attorney's orientations to the larger profession, the structure of the professional practice setting within which the counsel is located, and the supports for disclosure offered by the legal profession through its formal organizations. These factors are described and then combined into a general predictive model of disclosure by corporate counsel. A concluding discussion of the general ramifications of the proposed revisions focuses on the social implications of the attorney-client privilege, in which the client is as unique an actor as is the large organization.

Research Article
Copyright © American Bar Foundation, 1981 

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