Why Context Matters
Pages 1-24 in "Lawyers in Practice: Ethical Decision Making in Context" Ed. by Leslie C. Levin and Lynn Mather (University of Chicago Press 2012) ISBN 978-0-226-47516-5
23 Pages Posted: 12 Apr 2012 Last revised: 22 Nov 2013
Date Written: 2012
Lawyers’ ethical decision making is shaped both by professional regulation and the social and economic setting of the workplace. The notion that “context matters” for lawyers has become almost a truism, but few other works have shown exactly how it matters. This essay introduces and summarizes a new book of empirical research that examines lawyers’ ethical decision making in the context of practice. The book is entitled Lawyers in Practice: Ethical Decision Making in Context (University of Chicago Press 2012). Contributors explore ethical problems lawyers confront in immigration, personal injury, patent, securities, and public interest practice, as well as in corporate settings such as litigation, in house counsel, and transnational work. Each practice area has its own particular norms and challenges, shaped not only by substantive, procedural and ethical legal rules, but also by clients, practice organizations, economics, and culture. Lawyers construct definitions of acceptable lawyering conduct in their offices, in interactions with one another in negotiations and litigation, and through appearances before judges and agencies. Such definitions are also influenced by professional rules, disciplinary boards, and others who regulate lawyer conduct. This essay draws on interdisciplinary studies that describe ethical issues from the practitioners’ point of view in each area of practice to show why close attention to context matters for understanding lawyers’ ethical decision making. Knowing what “is” can help the bar, lawmakers and other regulators construct and enforce what lawyers “ought” to do.
Keywords: lawyers, legal ethics, law firms, lawyers’ decision making, legal specialization, professional conduct, communities of practice, norms, socialization, professionalism, regulation of lawyers, disclosure, conflicts of interest, lawyer/client relationship
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