Any incident that questions how one should react based on the beliefs of right and wrong is an ethical dilemma. This creates a situation involving two conflicting moral principles and to follow one, means the other is being violated. As a foundation of society, ethics act as a guide to moral daily living and helps judge whether one's behavior can or cannot be justified. Ethical dilemmas are recurring issues within any law firm that may negatively impact decision making such as conflict of interest, lawyer advocacy, and leaving a practice.
The question of ethics is essential to the way society operates. It shows the value of responsibility, respect, honesty, and fairness to others. A society without ethics would lead to dishonesty and injustice. Ethical dilemmas often occur within any law firm. When lawyers enter into a professional relationship with their client, they become bound by several ethical and professional duties. Lawyers are responsible for much of the decision making in a case. They have to choose what is and what is not important to be able to represent their client the best that they can. If they fail to do so, ethical dilemmas tend to emerge.
One of the major problems for lawyers that can cause ethical dilemmas is conflict of interest. Conflict of interest between a lawyer and a client occurs when there is a situation where a public official who, contrary to the task at hand and obligation to act for the benefit of the public or an individual, exploits the relationship for some kind of personal benefit (Eidsness). Lawyers have to be weary of representing too many people all at one time. They have to make sure they are putting in enough time to accurately represent all of their clients. The more that is put on their plates, the harder it is to do that. In the article it states, “if a lawyer is divorcing a couple, having multiple plaintiffs in a personal injury matter, or if a husband and a wife were wanting wills, having all of these cases to represent at once can lead to conflict of interest” (Eidsness). Although it is possible to take on multiple parties at the same time, it may be beneficial to do only one or two at a time. Taking the responsibility of too many clients can potentially be a huge problem (Eidsness). One person could be robbed of the lawyers time while another is getting all of the attention. This can create tension between clients and overwhelm the attorney. Another example of an ethical dilemma that is caused by conflict of interest is when a lawyer has decided he or she wants to sue someone who they have previously represented if the previous representation gave information that would lead to an unfair advantage (Bray). In the article it says, “ethical issues tend to arise in this situation as lawyers working in the same law firm cannot represent clients with opposing interests” (Strauss). Even if one lawyer does not have conflict of interest with a client, the fact that another lawyer does may prohibit representation that could lead to complication within the trial. Although lawyers are forced to adhere to the specific guidelines of the Bar, they also have to establish a relationship with each client by giving them a trusting environment. Having a conflict of interest makes creating that relationship much harder.
Not only do conflict of interests lead to ethical dilemmas, lawyer advocacy is another huge problem in the field. Lawyer advocacy aims to influence decisions within political, economic, and social institutions (Freedman). The influences that lawyers make during a trial are crucial. They can either help or hurt their clients by saying certain things. According to researchers, “The legal system automatically assumes that with the parties arguing their respective positions that the best answer will become apparent to the decision maker, also known as the judge” (Freedman). The system believes that each side will present their sides of the case honestly and with little involvement of the judge. This idea can be very difficult to reach when one of the parties is demented (Bray). When a party is demented, it means that someone involved in the case has a mental disability or infirmity (Bray). This can affect a person's legal capacity in one way or another. Someone could be only partially demented and yet still be able to give informed consent and make conclusive decisions for some legal matters (Strauss). This can become a problem and create dilemmas in the field. If the lawyer does not have the clients best interest and only acts upon what he thinks the judge wants to hear, he or she is not doing their job correctly. In the journal, Bray concludes that, “clients go to lawyers with problems that they want fixed, and they rely on the lawyers to use the law to help achieve their goals” (Bray). They need to be represented by their party with integrity and honesty. When a lawyer thinks that their clients have a good case, they forget about the information at hand and put the case on default, preparing for battle (Strauss). In doing this, it has the potential to destroy the relationship with the client, leaving them feeling unfulfilled. It makes them feel as if their lawyer did not put forth their best judgement.
Another huge problem that may lead to an ethical dilemma is leaving a practice. During the course of a legal career, a lawyer may decide they would like to leave their practice, whether that be temporarily or permanently. Lawyers are no longer committed to a single law firm for their whole career (Proctor). They are able to frequently move to new firms or even leave to start a firm of their own. A lawyer's departure often tests the professionalism of the lawyers involved and raises many ethical, legal, business and personal issues. This becomes a problem when they still have unfinished cases. Proctor states, “There is nothing prohibiting a lawyer to stay somewhere solely because of open cases they could be working on” (Proctor). He then goes on and says, “after an attorney has left a practice all of the cases that person had would then go on to another lawyer in the same facility to continue” (Proctor). This is not an ideal situation, not all lawyers are the same, some may have strengths in different areas. For example, if a client wanted to get a divorce, he or she may have gone to the only divorce lawyer at a particular firm. If that divorce lawyer then decides to leave, even after picking up this case, the client is left without a lawyer who specializes in what they need. Their case would get handed over to someone who may have dealt with a similar case or two in the past. Since their new lawyer does not specialize in the same thing as the previous one, the client may get exactly what they need. Although it is not wrong for a lawyer to leave a practice, it definitely creates a dilemma for everyone else involved. However, in a solo practice, the burden of handling transitioning is frequently addressed alone. In a solo practice there is typically only one lawyer that takes on the task to represent clients. If this lawyer decided to leave their practice, there is no one else to fall back on. There is often no relationship with a backup counsel and the client is left without a lawyer and without a case (Proctor). If they still would like to continue with their case, they would then have to resort to another firm and essentially start over again. The client may potentially end up with a lawyer that they did not want to be with initially.
Ethical dilemmas are inevitable in any law firm. There are many different views, principles, opinions and policies. Conflict of interest, lawyer advocacy, and leaving a practice all impact the end decision in a courtroom. It is important to ensure that the choice of action is not solely based on opinion but well informed evaluations of a situation and possible outcomes. When faced with a difficult dilemma one must take into consideration the greater good for all.
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