IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Lawyers in the Moral Maze


  • Mark Sargent

    (Villanova University School of Law)


This article overviews the various forms of lawyer complicity in illegal or immoral behavior by corporate managers in the corporate scandals of the last three years, but focuses primarily on the question of why lawyers so often seemed willing to engage in or ignore behavior that presumably violated their own personal moral codes (whether religious or secular) as well as their professional role morality. The article draws on Robert Jackall's Moral Mazes (1988) for an answer derived from the sociology of corporate bureaucracies. Jackall's case studies of corporate managers found that managers adhered to the moral "rules-in-use" developed in their social setting to facilitate their own survival and success. These rules emphasized an ethos of unrelenting pragmatism, flexibility and cynicism that placed great weight on group loyalty. By adopting their social setting's actual moral rules-in-use, managers tended to bracket other moral considerations, removing such considerations as a potential obstacle to illegal or immoral behavior. Applying Jackall's concept of socially-defined moral rules-in-use to corporate in-house counsel and lawyers in large firms, the article concludes that the social settings in which lawyers operate can produce a similar bracketing of moral concerns and, even more important, the type of professional role morality that should check managerial wrongdoing. The potential impact of the SEC's new professional standards for lawyers is assessed pessimistically in light of this phenomenon.

Suggested Citation

  • Mark Sargent, "undated". "Lawyers in the Moral Maze," Villanova University Legal Working Paper Series villanovalwps-1013, Villanova University School of Law.
  • Handle: RePEc:bep:villwp:villanovalwps-1013

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:bep:villwp:villanovalwps-1013. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Christopher F. Baum). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.