Ethics When You’re a Lawyer

Small Group Study / Produced by TOW Project

This lesson is part of Issues Christian Lawyers Face, a study guide produced by The Theology of Work Project in partnership with Steven Moe, for the New Zealand Christian Lawyers national conference in May 2017. Click the Table of Contents on the right of this page to see the entire curriculum.


Sometimes we may be asked to act in a way which is ethically questionable.

Case study

Nicola is chatting with one of the clients her partner Greg has had for years. He is explaining a tricky situation and says, “… so the accountant has said that what we need to do to get that $250,000 tax benefit is, for the document you helped with, to be dated before the end of the financial year. But of course because that was yesterday what I want you to do is to print out a new copy then I can sign it and you witness the deed and we date it and the company resolution last week sometime – doesn’t matter when – as long as it is before financial year end.” Nicola hesitates long enough for the client to continue, “We did this last year too Greg, it’s really common in our industry, and there will be a benefit for you too as I’m happy if you want to charge me a few thousand for this service - there is a lot of money at stake here…”.

Questions for Discussion

  • What do you identify with in this story, and why?
  • Is the answer to this situation the same for all lawyers – or is there a difference between legal ethics and Christian ethics?
  • How does Christian faith impact on decision making in these type of ethical situations?

Biblical reflection

The Bible says a great many things about following God at work, including its positive effects on wellbeing and security:

Happy is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways. You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.
(Psalm 128:1-2)

But ethical dilemmas in the workplace aren’t always cut and dry. Moreover, it would be impossible to create a Christian rule-book that covers every conceivable workplace dilemma. Instead, you can work through a dilemma by thinking of it from multiple angles:

Command approach – What rules or commandments apply in this case?
Consequences approach – What are the possible consequences of this action, either good or bad?
Character approach – What does this mean for my character? What kind of person do I want to be?

Perhaps you will not make the right decision every time, or perhaps there is no right decision in some instances. A better hope is that you will mature as a Christian, becoming more like Jesus each time you wrestle with these questions:

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
(1 John 3:2-3)

Discuss: What are the key principles from this study that could be applied in your situation?

For more on the 3Cs approach to making ethical decisions, read the Theology of Work Project long form article on Ethics at Work or the article on Truth and Deception in the Workplace. Also see bible commentary on Daniel 3 and Psalms 15, 24 and 34.