June 18, 2006
June 18, 2006
June 21, 2006
11.23.1 - 11.23.15
A Comparative Study of Professional Ethics: What Can the Ethics of the Legal Profession Teach Engineers? Abstract
Engineering faculty, technical managers, and practicing engineers want to see ethically-minded engineers exit the graduation stage and enter the work force. But how can faculty increase the chances of that occurring? Other professions that impose on practitioners a high level of professional responsibility might provide useful answers. Surprisingly, no better profession exists for this purpose than the legal profession. The endless parade of jokes about attorneys hides the fact that the legal profession possesses a refined ethics curriculum and accountability process.
This paper seeks to understand what the legal curriculum suggests to engineering educators about how and what to include in an ethics curriculum. The paper outlines the high level of development of ethics in law school curricula and the intense regulation of attorneys’ professional conduct. Additionally, a comparison of legal versus engineering ethics curricula material shows the development of the ethical and professional canons for attorneys relative to those for engineers. Lastly, the paper offers suggestions to engineering faculty.
The general public characterizes lawyers as “greedy, manipulative, and corrupt.”1 Corporate scandals, media-circus court coverage, allegations that frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits undermine healthcare, and widely-publicized multi-million dollar tort damage awards work to create this perception.2 Additionally, the adversary process employed in the legal system often works to ensure that at most half of the parties involved in any legal dispute are satisfied. One usually does not need to look hard or far to find a divorcé or divorcée who does not hold in high regard the ex-spouse’s attorney.3
Perception, however, does not necessarily equate with reality. Very few legal disputes end up in court, politicians and business leaders in many cases exaggerate the societal and economic ills wrought by lawyers, and media reports prove less than representative of the ordinary practice of law. Digging into the matter a bit further, a great many lawyers engage in ethical conduct. For example, in 2004 - the last year for which statistics are available - roughly 6,000 lawyers nationwide received sanctions for some kind of ethical lapse.4 That same year approximately 1.1 million persons were engaged in the practice of law.5 Of the lawyers who were sanctioned, the ethical lapse involved typically related to a single case or transaction rather than to his or her entire practice of law and involved lack of communication with clients.
Stated another way, almost all practicing lawyers (99.5%) presumably engaged in ethical conduct. True, not all lawyers who engaged in unethical conduct were found out or reported to their respective bar associations, but the same could be said for other professions. Additionally, there is no evidence that underreporting is any more or less prevalent in the legal profession than in other professions. To encourage reporting, state and local bar associations make complaint forms easily and readily accessible to the general public.6
Rossler, P., & High, M. (2006, June), A Comparative Study Of Professional Ethics: What Can The Ethics Of The Legal Profession Teach Engineers? Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. https://peer.asee.org/1038
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