The power of rationalization to influence lawyers' decisions to act unethically

This article explores the psychological literature on rationalization and connects it with contemporary questions about the role of in-house lawyers in ethical dilemmas. Using the case study of AWB Ltd, the exclusive marketer of Australian wheat exports overseas, it suggests that rationalizations were influential in the perpetuation by in-house lawyers of AWB's payment of kickbacks to the Iraqi regime. The article explores how lawyers' professional rationalizations can work together with commercial imperatives to prevent in-house lawyers from seeing ethical issues as those outside the organisation would see them. In particular, where lawyers over-identify with their client's commercial point of view and convince themselves that their role is primarily about providing 'technical' advice on commercial matters, wilful or unintended 'ethical blindness' can result. Lawyers can end up involved in or perpetuating serious misconduct by their client organizations.
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