26 Oct 2016

Research calls into question ethical standards of young lawyers

Many law students say they would be comfortable lying about their billable hours for personal gain.

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A recent study led by University College London professor Richard Moorhead asked law students in the United Kingdom and United States whether, hypothetically, they would be willing to falsify information on their work time sheet in order to qualify for a cash bonus. While 26 per cent of students in the UK it would be ‘very unlikely’ that they would lie in order to obtain the bonus, and a further 26 per said it was ‘unlikely’, at least 24 per cent of students expressed that it was either very likely, likely or somewhat likely that they violate company policy in order to obtain a personal financial reward.

Ethical dilemma

In the hypothetical scenario presented to students in the study, they are asked to imagine a scenario in which they are working as a lawyer and filling out a timesheet of their own billable hours. Students were presented with the conundrum of being just five hours short of a 500-hour threshold required to be eligible for a £3,000 cash bonus. ‘[Y]ou could bill five hours spent on a training course in order to meet the goal without anyone finding out, although this is against company policy,’ the question posits.

Women more ethical

In addition to the 24 per cent of UK students who expressed that it was at least somewhat likely that they would take this course of action, an additional 10 per cent were undecided. There were no significant differences between the responses of UK and US students, though the researchers did identify a ‘stronger ethical identity’ among female respondents.

Sources: Legal Cheek; Legal Business

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