Aligning your moral compass

Welcome to the third and final instalment in my little mini-series on the impact that globalisation has had on legal professional ethics. It’s nice to see I haven’t bored you all into oblivion just yet! This week I want to discuss how young lawyers can navigate their ethical responsibilities in the absence of any universal set of guidelines on how to be an ethical lawyer mainly when overseas but also when involved in transnational, global matters from within Australian offices. The importance of developing skills to cope in these complex situations cannot be overlooked.

“The need for global ethical leadership is not merely a desirable option, but rather – and quite literally – a matter of survival” – Jones and Miller 

The Moral Compass

The focus of this blog post will consider the intriguing concept of a moral compass. A moral compass works in the same way to a regular compass, however the needle will point you towards truth and right-justness instead of north. The concept of a both a compass and morality are seemingly simple at their core, but the combination of the two and the in-depth analysis of what morality actually is. Like we discussed in my last blog post, morality is similarly based on the beliefs and attitudes of our own culture and as such, our own moral compass will encounter the very same problem.

A Theoretical Solution

It is easy to come up with what some might describe as “academic mumbo jumbo” concepts that, on the surface, seem to provide a perfect solution to our problems. All I need when I move overseas is to find my moral compass and just follow it where leads me, apparently to absolute truths and a romanticised idea of morally right. While this theoretical theory is helpful to conceptualise the solution, ethics are inherently a very practical issue that requires the corresponding practical techniques and tips. Unless I can find somewhere that internationally ships this ‘moral compass’ in a lovely rose gold, then we are about to have some serious issues!

In Practice

Perhaps the answer is to, in fact, redefine what we believe ethics to be. It has been suggested that in the digital age,  that “not one will develop the perfect solution to the ethical dilemmas that we are facing today”.  If we disregard ethics and morality as having a specific answer then the entire conversation around professional ethical obligations would change. There is no one set of guidelines that can ever provide us with all the answers, instead we must continually test and challenge our own morality. Our compass must be realigned regularly and take into account our new environment while remembering where we have come from. This new way of thinking about ethics would remove the impression of ethics as a fixed answer of right and wrong and begin to address the often all too blurry areas of legal practice.

When difficult ethical situations arise, it is important to seek the support and advice of fellow colleagues and the relevant legal ethical boards both in Australia and overseas where possible. This will help to help navigate any cultural clashes and help other lawyers with their own ethical dilemmas later in their own careers by developing the skills to survive in a globalised legal landscape. However, these skills should be taught much earlier in a law students life in anticipation for the type of lawyer the world presently requires.

The Future of Legal Ethics

In the future, the way in which legal ethics is taught must mould and adapt to better prepare law students in light of the effect that globalisation has had on the legal landscape. Magdalene D’Silva rightly argues that it is at law school where students first set their own moral compass. Law schools have a moral duty, as such, to equip students with the skills to cope and thrive in the global sphere and to make students aware of their own cultural bias.

I would suggest that this university reform should involve more detailed explanations of the differences in morality and ethical guidelines other countries. It would be important to explain to young law students about how our own western ideologies can be used to remain respectful of other cultures while staying true to our own beliefs. Legal ethics courses at universities should focus on moving past simply explaining the jurisdiction-specific guidelines and legislation and start a discussion situations that are not covered by these rules. The importance of maintaining ethical standards outside the Australian jurisdiction remains unclear in terms of punitive action and

Perhaps the discussion around legal ethics should also be continued after a student’s law degree into practice within their law firm. Etherington and Lee argue that law firms have a place in developing the professional ethos of their lawyers. Law firms can contribute to this process by providing informal peer training sessions and recruiting lawyers with cultural sensitivities. However, to recruit law students with cultural sensitivities would be greatly assisted by universities taking a more active role to instil cultural competency in their students. I believe that the current system of teaching legal ethics must change but as young lawyers right now, we have to become aware of these challenges and start to educate ourselves.

Thank you all for joining me in my journey to discover more about my own legal ethics in a global context, I hope you’ve found my mini-series thought-provoking and that you’ve learnt something new. Let me know in the comments on the ways that you have navigated your own ethical responsibilities as a lawyer in your practice!

Until next time…

Lauren x

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