McGill Law Journal
In theory, professional codes of conduct are supposed to assist lawyers in choosing the appropriate course of action when they are faced with an ethical dilemma and it is expected that lawyers will, in practice, turn to such codes for guidance. A recent research initiative undertaken by legal scholars at the University of Western Ontario sought to examine the effectiveness of codes of ethics in maintaining standards of behaviour within the legal profession in Ontario by examining the kinds of ethical problems confronting lawyers in that province and the extent to which they were resolved through the use of professional codes.
This article examines the nature of ethical codes in the legal profession and offers an analysis of particular results of the research initiative. The authors conclude that the research demonstrates a lack of reliance on professional codes for the purpose of resolving ethical issues by the majority of lawyers practicing in Ontario. Moreover, the study revealed that such codes tend to inhibit ethical deliberation by those lawyers who refer to them for assistance in solving specific problems. The results of the study will, in the authors' opinion, encourage the legal profession in Ontario to re-examine the efficacy of existing codes of professional conduct and the role they should play in shaping lawyers' ethical decision-making.