Lawyers turn to helpline for Ethi-Call dilemmas

Ethi-Call, a free and anonymous counselling service for professionals, is welcoming calls from lawyers facing ethical quandaries at work.

Elisabeth Shaw, a psychologist who runs Ethi-Call, told Lawyers Weekly many lawyers find that their codes of practice do not adequately address some complex ethical issues.

“Sometime people lose confidence that their code will be sufficient, because it is a generic document,” Ms Shaw said.

“Codes are written in black-and-white, [but often] people feel in an ethical area that there might be a number of right options or that every option is wrong.”

For instance, a person new to their career and working under the guidance of a principal solicitor may experience an ethical dilemma if they do not feel confident in that person’s decision-making, yet are aware their career rests in that person’s hands.

“There are also issues around the duty to the profession and also to run a commercial business,” Ms Shaw said.

Lawyers can sometimes feel torn between their duty of care towards clients who are potentially very vulnerable and their commercial relationship with that client, she said.

“In that mix is also a duty to oneself. Is it fair and reasonable to make decisions about who you are going to represent? Where do personal values come into that decision and where is one maybe being overly precious?”

Lawyers may feel that their ethical problem “falls between the cracks” of the code of conduct, or they may have a personal issue with a practice that is widely accepted at their firm.

“Maybe a situation rings every alarm bell [you’ve] got, but no one else in the office seems to be bothered,” Ms Shaw said. “Ethics can be very individual.”

Counsellors at the helpline do not offer advice, but help callers in reaching their own moral conclusions.

“We have a formal decision-making model that has been developed more from philosophical underpinnings,” Ms Shaw said. “It is a structured approach where people can think outside their profession and outside the limits of their own thinking and come at [the problem] from a different angle.”

The counsellors ask callers why they think they have an ethical issue and what it is that worries them in terms of their own values.

“We [also] look at the stake holders,” said Ms Shaw. “Sometimes people don’t realise that there are more people in the arrangement or find it hard to take everyone into account.”

She said lawyers calling the service have often already consulted their relevant legal body and their colleagues, and have decided to reach out for help because they still have ethical concerns.

“Often the ethical disquiet feels quite personal… We look at options in line with their values that satisfy their own sense of getting it right,” she said.

“We go through a series of philosophical tests, which are tried and true over thousands of years, [to help] people reflect on their decision and test its robustness in practice.”

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