The world has witnessed, of recent times, some spectacular examples of corporate deceit and unethical behaviour – Enron is the best example in the US and HIH is as good an example closer to home. It is said that for every actual corporate crook there are at least ten corporate deceivers – people who fool themselves that things are other than they appear to be. In the case of an Enron or an HIH, not all the key players could be described as crooks but clearly there were many deceivers.
Sir Walter Scott once wrote: "Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive." Deceit invariably demands further deceit until eventually it collapses under its own weight.
The accounting profession, particularly in the US, has suffered badly as a result of the corporate collapses that the world has recently witnessed. Arthur Andersen was always generally admired as one of the very best of the large accounting firms. Its demise didn’t come about as a result of any lack of accounting expertise but rather episodes such as the shredding of evidence in the Enron saga which tend to indicate that individuals within it were prepared to assist in a process of deceit.
There is, therefore, a real crisis of confidence in the accounting profession. It was always thought, particularly in the area of audit, that they were independently vetting the ‘system’. Instead, in many instances, they have been seen to be an integral part of the system – simultaneously performing both auditing and consulting services, having partners and former partners sitting on boards and audit committees and filling the accounts departments of their clients with their ex-employees and ex-partners.
As lawyers, our first and fundamental obligation is to act honestly, ethically and with integrity in everything we do. We have duties and responsibilities to the court, duties and responsibilities to our clients and duties and responsibilities to each other which we can only discharge properly by being completely honest. There is no greater attribute that we can bring to the role and there is no greater failing in that role than to act without full and complete honesty and integrity.
A lawyer at Lavan must:
To summarise our duties to act honestly, ethically and with integrity:
It is absolutely essential that we have a clear and common understanding on this issue and a culture that facilitates honesty at all times and in all respects.