Theoretical Legal Ethics : Corporate Lawyers and Aristo-Kantian Moral Philosophies

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Embargoed until 2023-04-14
Copyright: Mescher, Barbara
The purpose of this thesis is to demonstrate that corporate lawyers’ professional ethics, known as legal ethics, requires greater moral content. The role of legal ethics is indicative of how lawyers practice law and is defined by the Queensland Law Society as 'principles and values which, along with conduct rules and common law, regulate a lawyer's behaviour [that give guidance] to ensure right conduct in the daily practice of law'. Legal ethics, therefore, has a vital role in lawyers' professional obligations: legal duties to the law and justice, fiduciary and confidentiality duties as well as discretionary rules such as integrity, practical wisdom, and judgement as well as professional codes of conduct. Legal ethics also refers to theoretical legal ethics (TLE), a generic term coming from philosophical theory, whose function is to provide guiding principles to lawyers when interpreting their professional role and obligations. Lawyers' current TLE, positivist TLE, is guided by a positivist philosophy which the thesis argues is no longer suitable for corporate lawyers and should be replaced. Its narrow scope does not adequately reinforce lawyers’ professional obligations, nor address ethical issues of 21st century corporate law practice. The thesis shows the situation faced by corporate lawyers and the problems with positivist TLE, by analysing the legal and ethical issues in the James Hardie (JH) case study. Here, commercial decisions made by JH, parent company of a company group, were later subject to a commission of inquiry initiated by an Australian state government. The thesis proposes a new TLE: Aristo-Kantian TLE, informed by the moral philosophies of Aristotle and Kant and applying them to legal practice issues. This is developed into a practical model that corporate lawyers (and indeed all lawyers) could use to formulate legal and ethical advice to clients. These moral philosophies are applied in three steps: Step I, Moral Sensitivity; Step II, Moral Reasoning; Step III, Lawyers' Dialogue with Clients, to present lawyers’ advice. The main research question is: Could Aristo-Kantian philosophies provide greater moral content for corporate lawyers’ professional obligations and theoretical legal ethics, with benefits for corporate clients, legal professionals and the public good?
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Mescher, Barbara
Kingsford-Smith, Dimity
Rogers, Justine
Breakey, Hugh
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty
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