Law societies perceived more ethically relative to previous years

By Jerome Doraisamy|25 November 2020
Law societies perceived more ethically relative to previous years

Perceptions of Australian law societies have improved in 2020, after a couple of years of declining community impressions, according to new research.

The fifth annual Ethics Index, which quantifies the perceptions of Australians of the overall importance of ethics and the level of ethical behaviour of individuals, institutions and professional strands across the country, has been published by Governance Institute of Australia.

Earlier this week, Lawyers Weekly published a podcast episode in conjunction with Governance Institute, unpacking how the legal profession across the board has fared this past year, and why perceptions have changed in that time.

In 2020, law societies across the country have improved their standing among Australians, with 61 per cent of respondents to the survey deeming such societies to be either “somewhat ethical” or “very ethical”, while just 14 per cent said they were “somewhat unethical” or “very unethical”, for a net score of 47.

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The results mark the highest net score for law societies since 2017, at which point such bodies scored at 42. They also mark a change from the past two years: in 2018, law societies had a net score of 37, and in 2019, perceptions declined further for a net score of just 33.

While law societies are perceived as more ethical this year compared to recent years, they still lag behind organisations such as the Australian Medical Association (net score of 69), Engineers Australia (58) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants (52).

They ranked much better, however, than organisations such as the Australian Workers’ Union (net score of 29), Financial Planning Association (26) and the Real Estate Institute (19).

In the aforementioned episode, former BigLaw partner and governance, human rights and modern slavery legal expert Geraldine Johns-Putra hypothesised that improved perceptions of legal professionals and law societies were the result of Australians seeing prominent lawyers advocate during recent royal commissions and other inquiries, as well as an increased community focus on civil liberties in the wake of the age of coronavirus.

The research also revealed that Australians’ perceptions of lawyers’ ethics have improved in 2020, with 45 per cent of respondents deeming lawyers to be “somewhat ethical” or “very ethical”, while 34 per cent see lawyers as “somewhat unethical” or “very unethical”, for a net score of 11. The jump from -2 last year to 11 marks a significant improvement for lawyers in the past 12 months.

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Moreover, the Ethics Index found that ethical perceptions of judicial officers have improved, with 70 per cent of respondents saying they feel that judges across the board are either “somewhat ethical” or “very ethical”, with just 13 per cent deeming them to be either “somewhat unethical” or “very unethical”, for a net score of 57. This is up from a net score of 43 last year.

To listen to the full episode about the Ethics Index 2020, click below:

Law societies perceived more ethically relative to previous years
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