Money, Money, and More Money: With a Side of Ethics

Putting_money_into_a_piggybank

“Your life as a lawyer will be filled with the kind of things that drove John Grisham to write novels: dictating letters and talking on the phone and drafting memoranda… and filling out time sheets.” — Patrick Schiltz “On Being a Happy, Healthy, and Ethical Member of an Unhappy, Unhealthy, and Unethical Profession”

In his must read article, Schiltz further remarks:

And because your life as a lawyer will be filled with the mundane, whether you practice law ethically will depend not upon how you resolve the one or two dramatic ethical dilemmas that you will confront during your entire career, but upon the hundreds of little things that you will do, almost unthinkingly, each and every day.

What this means, then, is that you will not practice law ethically—you cannot practice law ethically—unless acting ethically is habitual for you. You have to be in the habit of being honest. …These qualities have to be deeply ingrained in you, so that you can’t turn them on and off…

[However,] when lawyers speak with envy or admiration about other lawyers, they do not mention a lawyer’s devotion to family or public service, or a lawyer’s innate sense of fairness, or even a lawyer’s skill at trying cases or closing deals, nearly as much as they mention a lawyer’s billable hours, or stable of clients, or annual income.

Schiltz argues that lawyers work so much and begin their slow descent into acting unethically for the “the money, stupid”. He explains that lawyers are fiercely competitive, driven by a need to constantly earn more than the lawyer down the street or even down the hall. And in order to earn these high salaries, lawyers have to keep billing more and more every year. To bill more and more, most lawyers rationalize padding the bill. Padding the bill turns into a white lie here and there, which slowly escalates into more bad behaviour.

But why is the money so compelling?

“A wealthy man is one who makes $100 more than his wife’s sister’s husband.” – H. L. Mencken

In the Happy Lawyer, Levit and Linder quote a study where people were asked whether they would would prefer an income of $50,000 when the average is $25,000 or an income of $100,000 when the average is $250,000, most people polled chose the $50,000 situation. It seems that relative income matters more than absolute income to most people.

Levit and Linder recommend that we avoid making upward comparisons, and instead, focus on internal goals in our pursuit of happiness. But like most things, this is easier said than done.

Schiltz’s article: http://www.vallexfund.com/download/being_happy_healthy_ethical_member.pdf

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