Ethics are important within any industry, but the practice of law requires an extremely high standard of ethical behavior from its members. As the head of a law firm, you have a responsibility to not only ensure your own ethical behavior, but also to promote principled practices within your practice.
Trying to handle this task for numerous people can prove challenging, but the Society for Human Resource Management provides some tips on how best to encourage ethical behavior within the workplace.
Put It in Writing
The best way to communicate your expectations for ethical behavior is to have written policies that every employee must review and acknowledge upon hire and on a regular basis thereafter. This eliminates any questions about what the firm’s policies entail.
A comprehensive policy should also include instructions for reporting ethical violations and a clear disciplinary policy. It may also prove useful to keep a copy of the Rules of Professional Responsibility in the office.
For partners and attorneys, this may entail refresher courses about the Rules of Professional Responsibility. It may come in the form of CLE trainings or routine updates about changes to attorney rules of ethics. For support staff members, it’s important to keep in mind that they have not received the same level of education regarding ethics within a legal practice.
Implement an intensive training program upon hire and reinforce the lessons with refresher sessions throughout employment.
Ethical questions and conflicts are inevitably going to arise in your practice. Prepare for these challenges by implementing an advisory system where firm members can seek consult and advice. You may place one partner in this position or create an advisory board. Many state bars offer ethics guidance as well.
Take advantage of these resources to properly handle ethical questions before they become serious problems for your firm.
Confidential reporting process
A law firm is not the place to promote secrets and cover-ups. Create a reporting system that protects whistleblowers and entails a comprehensive investigatory process. If a member of your staff knows of unethical behavior occurring within the practice, he should be made to feel comfortable enough to report the issue without fear of retribution.
When ethical violations are confirmed, a disciplinary system not only addresses the issue at hand, but it also sends a message to other members of your practice that unethical behaviors will not be tolerated. Your disciplinary system may include a suspension from work, a warning system or termination from employment.
The state bar association may require you to report certain actions to the grievance board. Learn the requirements in your state and be sure to abide by them as part of your disciplinary procedure.
A reputation for honesty and integrity is just as important as ability in the legal profession. With these strategies, you can encourage ethical behaviors within your practice and promote your firm’s good name within the community.
About Erika Winston:
Erika Winston is a Virginia based writer with a passion for all things legal. As a former domestic relations attorney, she understands the challenge of determining the best fee structure for your practice. Erika is a regular contributor to TimeSolv and a variety of other publications.