We will understand ‘professionalism’ in this paper as a moral quality involving: a) a commitment to the public good which justifies the profession (see Chapter 11); (b) scrupulous adherence to all relevant legal rules; c) adherence to all relevant professional and ethical codes regarding conduct and competence – including the code’s more aspirational statements of values and virtues as well as its detailed black letter obligations that have disciplinary consequences.1 Lawyers
will generally adhere to the basic moral norms held by the local community where the lawyer practices but recognize that a lawyer’s commitment is to the values of the profession and the public good it seeks to further, even, and especially, when they conflict with public sentiment.2 Professionalism does not require mere conformity with these rules, but an intrinsic, internalized respect for them3 – the ethical professional would live up to these ideals even if no-one was looking. What is required for such internalized moral compliance to occur?4 To answer this question, we borrow from James Rest’s influential four-component theory of moral psychology.5 Rest observes that four sorts of things can go wrong when an agent is faced with an ethical requirement.6 First, the agent may simply fail to recognize their situation as one requiring moral considerations; they are oblivious to the moral issues in play, perhaps because the agent fails to notice the interests of others being harmed, or fails to apprehend the potential risks and consequences their action sets in train. Second, even when the agent manages to recognize the situation as morally significant, they may fail to reason appropriately about what they should do, and so come to a mistaken conclusion about what morality requires. Third, even if the agent comes to the right conclusion, when it comes to making their decision the agent may be insufficiently motivated by a concern to do the right thing – or their other values may swamp their moral concerns. Fourth, and finally, even if the agent decides to do the right thing, they may through weakness of will, or other human frailty, fail to follow through on their decision. Thus, four broad (though interwoven) psychological components are necessary to ensure genuine moral action in general – and professionalism in particular. That is, the agent must possess: (1) Awareness of the moral aspects of their situation, requiring empathy and other social and emotional qualities to interpret it effectively; (2) Judgment in being able to reason about what morality requires; (3) Values that ensure they pay appropriate heed to morality’s demands; and, (4) Character that empowers them with the courage and grit to resist temptations and follow through on their moral decisions.