Friday, December 22, 2006

The ethical lawyer

This article was the editorial for the Personal Injury Brief Update Law Journal in December 2006. You can listen to it as a podcast by clicking here.

With the new year upon us, we not only take stock of the work we have been doing but also make our plans for the future. As personal injury lawyers, part of those plans will no doubt include reviewing our sources of work and perhaps promising ourselves to make more of an effort to expand this yet further. However, the start of the year is also a good time to take stick of our position as lawyers, and personal injury lawyers in particular, in society as a whole. Whether one is working for claimants or for insurance companies it is hardly in dispute that such lawyers are not held in terribly high esteem by every sector of society. Certainly, satisfied clients and former clients will extol the virtues of those that have helped them. However, beyond that both sides of the industry to some extend are caricatured unkindly both in the media and more widely by the public. Claimant lawyers are often said to be fuelling the so-called compensation culture whilst insurance lawyers may find themselves criticised for being overly aggressive and fighting against perfectly worthy claims.

Whilst both sides within the industry know the caricature is not an accurate one, the truth is that it sticks. Indeed, it is hardly dissimilar to the more general negative view that many people hold of lawyers in general. The question is not whether these prejudices are wrong but how they are to be dealt with. One way is to repeat arguments which have failed to convince in the past. Another might be to take a completely fresh approach and make a resolution to contribute to other areas of society outside of the law. This is no quick fix, but a few examples may help to stimulate ideas.

The first relates to charitable work and is highlighted by the efforts of employment law barrister Daniel Barnett who sends out an employment law newsletter (http://www.danielbarnett.co.uk/). He has recently encouraged his readership to make a small donation to children’s charity Dreams Come True (see www.justgiving.com/danielbarnett). We are supporting his efforts and hope also that it will inspire others along similar lines.

Another example is the contribution that we as lawyers might be able to make to reducing our impact on the environment. This will come from lots of people making small contributions. Examples might include law firms organising schemes where transport needs are shared or where they decide to go paperless for as much of their work as possible. It might be that firms decide to change to a green electricity provider or simply change their systems in order to minimise energy usage. Other examples might be more imaginative, such as the use of green businesses like online CPD provider CPD Webinars (http://www.cpdwebinars.com/). Whatever it is, it would provide another example of lawyers having a positive impact on society and our environment and may also have the added effect bonus of potentially even at least slightly changing people’s perceptions of lawyers as a whole.

1 comment:

STICKYBOI - said...

firstly i am dubious as to whether such a thing exists... How do you justify defending a rapist / child malestor / murderer etc?

Secondly, i believe the influx in legal proffesionals has a lot to do with the "compensation culture" many people are talking about today... I mean how is it ethical to help somebody who has had an accident at work (and an accident is defined as "an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally ") put in an accident claim against the people who pay their wages... the employer, who is being made to pay for the undesirable, unfortunate, and unintentional event, is indeed responsible for putting bread on your table week in week out...
think about it if you are ever involved in an industrial accident... it was never meant to happen