Navigating Conflicts in Country Practice

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Long title: 
Phronesis and the Navigation of Conflicting Interests in Small-Scale Country Legal Practice
Author(s): 
McGowan, Helen
Author(s)' contact information: 
Australian National University, Australia
Conference title: 
International Legal Ethics Conference VI
Conference location: 
City University London
Country: 
Australia
Year: 
2014

This paper shares the Fullerian framework used to understand the ethical world of Australian country lawyers. As part of her PhD research Helen is exploring how country lawyers recognise and resolve conflicts of interest. In a time of regulatory change, legal practices are adopting management systems to address perceived risks to ethical practice. Perhaps an unintended consequence of this development is a retreat from the exercise of nuanced professional judgment. Paradoxically, the Australian regulatory approach is moving away from prescriptive rules towards ethical principles. This change suggests the need for effective ethical judgment beyond compliance with positivist rules.
A philosophical understanding of legal ethics reveals the underlying influences on a lawyer’s ethical judgment. This paper uses Fuller’s concept of the ‘purposive professional’ tasked with bringing the purpose of the law into being, in order to understand country lawyers’ ethics. Fuller’s purposive lawyer contrasts with a positivist, rule based approach to ethics. The purposive lawyer reflects ‘phronesis’ or the centrality of practice wisdom in legal ethics. Informed by the research data, these philosophical concepts of purposive professionals and phronesis assist to describe and analyse influences on country lawyers’ ethics.

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