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Who are more ethical – male or female lawyers?

Posted by: Laurence Simons 30/10/15

Since the global financial crash of 2008, there have been countless studies into whether one of the problematic factors was intrinsically attitudinal – and it was. A herd mentality prevailed as an increasing number of executives from similar backgrounds amalgamated and took misguided risks which nobody successfully questioned or rejected.

Explorations of the crisis soon began to take on a new form, and criticised both the actions and the underlying ethics of those involved. Questions were raised about this herd mentality and what it meant in a wider business context, strengthening an already snowballing push for diversity. In fact, many critics now cite the fact that female fund managers in the US often outperform their male counterparts and display a far more risk adverse approach to their roles, making them a strategic addition to any existing boardroom. But one question which has not been so widely asked is whether the same situation is present in the legal profession. Are lawyers ethically-minded and who comes out on top – men or women?

Steven Vaughan, a senior law lecturer at the UK’s University of Birmingham, has studied this question. He interviewed a number of lawyers and asked them how they would describe a lawyer. Here are his findings:

The vast majority of female interviewees gave answers that reflected the virtues approach:

• “Someone who asks, ‘Is this the right thing to do?’…”
• “…a lawyer who lets morals…views on human rights etc, their personal code affect what they do”
• “Somebody who has integrity, honesty, thinks about others”.

Responses from male lawyers were far more mixed across the approaches outlined above. Many gave answers that were grounded in the law:

• “Someone who has respect for the law and the rule of law”
• “Someone who acts in the best interests of their client within regulatory and legal frameworks”
• “…compliance with standards set out by rules…”

He concluded that the females had a stronger grasp of ethical responsibility. Yet it is still worth noting that there is a huge difference between belief and action, and that not all of these people may be as outwardly in touch with ethical commitments as they are inwardly.