Mapping the Moral Compass: Exploring the Ethics of In-House Lawyers


Mapping the Moral Compass: Exploring the Ethics of In-House Lawyers

Part of a project Dr Steven Vaughan is working on with Professor Richard Moorhead (University College London), Legal Risk in the Corporate World: The Changing Role of In-House Lawyers, this paper will look at the relationships between in-house lawyers’ roles, professional orientations, team cultures, organisational pressures, ethical infrastructure and ethical inclination.

Based on a survey of 400 in-house lawyers working in public, third and commercial sectors in the UK, together with 33 follow-on interviews, the research provides a unique profile of real differences within the in-house community. Individual and team orientations to the in-house role; the invocation of professional principles; and ethical infrastructure, ethical pressure and relationships with the employer are all examined. It is as rich a picture of what it means to be an ethical in-house lawyer as has ever been attempted. The project shows that individuals, systems and cultures mesh together in meaningful and measurable ways to increase or reduce ethical risk. As numerous corporate scandals have shown, such ethical risk puts individual lawyers at risk of professional misconduct but it also encourages poor quality decision-making for the organisations that employ in-house lawyers: short-termism and sharp practice can lead to catastrophic error.

Dr Steven Vaughan is a Senior Lecturer at the Law School, University of Birmingham and Director of Research in CEPLER, the Law School’s Centre on Professional Legal Education and Research.


  • Dr Steven Vaughan
    Dr Steven Vaughan, Senior Lecturer