In-House Lawyers’ Ethics: Institutional Logics, Legal Risk and the Tournament of Influence

Richard Moorhead, Steven Vaughan and Cristina Godinho

£55, Hart Publishing


Congratulations and thank you to the authors for writing such a timely and thought-provoking book. There is a growing trend of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and ethical capitalism, creating a new moral narrative of organisational purpose. This means the business community is facing more and new ethical dilemmas.

In his article ‘Isn’t it time that in-house lawyers re-launched the legal function?’ Ciaran Fenton asks, ‘Would it be reasonable for a curious Martian to ask in-house lawyers where they were when their business leaders took the decisions that led to their corporate scandals?’ Is this question fair? This book seeks to explore this and many other important questions.

Although the academic style might be off-putting for those looking for quick, bite-sized chunks of wisdom, I urge anyone interested in this topic to persevere. Their time will be well rewarded. Information geeks like me will love the comprehensive footnotes that reference a treasure trove of other sources to follow up.

The book is a summary of what is described as the ‘most detailed profiling of in-house lawyers undertaken anywhere’. Insights from the study include that it is not known to many that under the code of conduct all solicitors are obliged to recognise interests other than those of their client, and that as in-house lawyers we see risk as an opportunity to demonstrate value through systemisation. Quantification of risk (whatever the definition), and measurement and control of risk may aid in the management of risk – but may also lead to box-ticking and complacency.

One of the most powerful statistics that jumps out of the book is that about 10% of respondents were asked to advise on ethically or legally debatable actions frequently or very frequently; and 40% were asked to advise on such actions sometimes. About10-15% agreed or strongly agreed that they were asked to advise on things that made them uncomfortable.

I am sure this book will become the basis of many follow-on articles and conference debates. There is a useful questionnaire which can be used to help each of us as individuals, or collectively as teams, to discover and start to articulate in more objective terms our risk appetite and our ethical framework. 

Anthony Kenny is a senior corporate lawyer at GSK