My topic this afternoon at this Conference on Legal Ethics: Access to Justice deals with corporate law firms and corporate ethics. This is an area that is as vast as it is unexplored. Most of the discussions regarding legal ethics, whether they are in grievance committee or at conferences, deal with issues that somehow don't apply to corporate law firm operations. They deal with criminal law, with the behavior of criminal defense lawyers. On occasion they deal with prosecutorial behavior. They deal with issues of individual client billing, fraud, solicitation issues, advertising issues by lawyers, escrow accounts or the extent to which lawyers can talk in court and out of court before they are judicially reprimanded.
It is quite apparent that the body of legal ethics has not moved fully to challenge the more systematic behavior of corporate law firms on behalf of corporate clients that are not individual human beings but which are artificial legal entities. As a result, a lot of the misbehavior by corporate lawyers doesn't quite fit under the existing interpretation of the canons or rules of professional conduct. If it did fit, it doesn't have the engines to extend it into the corporate law firm arena, as it would to an individual lawyer representing a client whether in a divorce case, a landlord tenant case, or in a contract or conveyance case or, obviously, in a criminal defense case.
"Corporate Law Firms and Corporate Ethics,"
Journal of the Institute for the Study of Legal Ethics: Vol. 2, Article 2.
Available at: https://scholarlycommons.law.hofstra.edu/jisle/vol2/iss1/2