Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Least Ethical?

In what my wife calls my not real world life I typically come into contact with attorneys, law professors, students, and expert witnesses. Within each group I observe a great range of ethical standards although the pressures are always downward. Nevertheless like four racehorses, I think of the groups as racing to the bottom. In terms of shameless lying, expert witnesses are still in the lead. Have you ever compared what some law professor experts write and then the positions they take for money? And then there is the sad story of Robert Lucas -- Nobel Prize winner -- getting clobbered for his expert opinions.

The latest Law School cheating news -- Illinois -- makes me reconsider the ranking. Is it possible law faculties (including deans) have overtaken expert witnesses? I'd be inclined to give Illinois a break since the differences are small. If you are going to lie, why not go big time? On the other hand, just like getting the wrong change back in some foreign countries, the errors always seem to cut in one direction. These "mistakes" at the margin may affect the investment decisions of thousands of law students. Is there a remedy for them?

Still out there is the ethical question I asked about six weeks ago. One school lies. The other school spends thousands hiring its own students or recruiting transfer students or teaching new bar exam courses so it can "honestly" report its new numbers. But for the rankings, it would not have done any of this. Is redirecting resources in this way any worse than lying?


Anonymous John Steele said...

I see the short-term hiring as intentional deceit and in my view all these forms of lying have at least two aggravating factors that make it a particularly nasty form of lying: (1) it's a law school and we should be able to expect some honesty from that kind of institution; and (2) the behavior of the law schools as a whole has been a powerful message to law students that grown-ups lawyers cook the books, juke the stats, and then rationalize about it. Actions speak louder than words, and law schools have been normalizing lying and "creative" accounting.

9/29/2011 2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Falsifying numbers is worse than spending money to truly improve characteristics that US News counts, even if most observers think the characteristics are not related to law school quality. The former clearly reflects behavior about which there is no social norm of acceptability, whereas the latter involves a somewhat coerced participation in a contest whose rules the law schools can't change, in which other schools do the same thing. This does not mean the latter is "okay" -- it's not -- but it is a shade less unethical. Along the same spectrum is telling the customs agent that you've not bought anything abroad (when you've bought a pack of gum) because if you tell him you've bought a pack of gum, you'll get searched. Or telling the agent that you've bought a pack of gum because if you say you've bought nothing they'll think you're lying and search you. Etc.

10/09/2011 9:38 AM  

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