Constrained Morality in the Professional Work of Corporate Lawyers

Journal of Business Ethics 170 (2):213-228 (2020)
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Abstract

In this article, we contribute to sociological literatures on morality, professional and institutional contexts, and morally stigmatized ‘dirty work’ by emphasizing and exploring how they mutually inform one another in lawyers’ work activities. Drawing on interview data with 58 practitioners in the commercial legal industry in Singapore, we analyze how they experience professional and institutional constraints on the expressions of morality in their work. Our findings illustrate how a dominant managerial and economic focus maintains and reproduces a constrained form of morality, limited to instrumental, utilitarian and commercial ends, and subordinated to lucrative client and firm interests. We discuss our findings in terms of the need to research and reform professions in ways that support more rounded and unconstrained moral reflexivity and autonomy in how work is undertaken and valued. This in turn has implications for how organizations and professions might achieve alternative moral institutional orders, and for legal work to avoid the moral and social taints of dirty work.

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Dawn Chow
College of DuPage