21 May 2013

With ethics, as in most things, there can be a difference between theory and practice.

The Wellington Branch of the Law Society held a panel discussion on professional ethics tonight.   Sir David Gascoigne, the Judicial Conduct Commissioner, led the panel.  Talking about ethics seems to be both attractive and topical. When the event was promoted, over 120 members of the profession indicated a wish to attend. The first 80 who could be accommodated were asked yesterday to confirm that they would attend – or to advise otherwise so those on the waiting list could take their place.  In the event only 55 turned up.

The “no show” numbers seem common to other professional gatherings.  The Institute of Public Administration  (New Zealand ) finds that members are quick to indicate an enthusiasm for attending presentations, but, with regularity, 30% prove to have other priorities on the day.

Participation tonight may suggest that the problem doesn’t reflect the organisation,  venue, time or topic.  The Society made the arrangements, the venue was in a large commercial practice, the time was early evening to fit with business and personal commitments, and post event refreshments were on offer. It seems reasonable to infer that lawyers professing an interest in ethics would be predisposed to values – to behaving with integrity – and would be ethical in fulfilling their commitments or, as requested, advise if they were unable to do so.

Integrity, according to Harvard academics  Werner Erhard and Michael Jensen, means keeping your word – doing what you say you will do and what you profess to be – and ensuring that you tell people when you are unable to keep your word, or to behave as you have indicated you will.  If typical of their kind, tonight’s 30% “no shows”  may suggest that a number of Wellington’s lawyers lack integrity. That group may be unfortunate in having missed the opportunity to talk about ethics.