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‘A weaker moral compass’: Study reveals one in five law students would falsify time records

More than one in five law students surveyed in the UK and the US admit they would falsify time records for personal and business gain, according to the first cross-jurisdiction quantitative study of the ethics of law students published in the International Journal of the Legal Profession earlier this month.

In addition, the study found that US legal trainees are collectively more ethical than those in England and Wales, that female respondents showed more ethical conduct than their male peers and also that those intending to practice business law were seen as experiencing a ‘weakening of moral identities’ compared to their peers intending to work for governments.

The study intended to measure the ethical identity of law students ‘across the multiple dimensions of values, moral outlook and professional identity’ over a sample of 441 students in England and Wales and 569 in the US. The study covered the first and final years of undergraduate law degrees and the postgraduate vocational stage in England and Wales, and students in all years of the JD programme in the US.

The lead author of the study and chair in law and professional ethics at University College London Richard Moorhead said: ‘The question for commercial law firms is whether they’re happy recruiting students with a weaker moral compass. If they want to do something about it, a first step would be giving integrity and professionalism equal profile to commercial awareness in recruitment processes.’

Former University of Law chief Nigel Savage said: ‘If all the law schools put less resource into researching and writing about the issues and more into teaching , learning and curriculum change to address the problems , we might make some progress.’

Savage (pictured) added: ‘The SRA changes will encourage them to do so, but as far as I can see the schools are resisting the changes and want to carry on delivering outdated law degrees on the basis that 50% of their students are not going into practice.’

Earlier this month, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said it was pushing on with its controversial ‘super exam’ proposals, launching another consultation following mixed feedback on the education reforms. Since then, the School of Law at Manchester University has become the first Russell Group school to embrace the SRA reforms despite initial resistance.