Almost one in four law student respondents in England and Wales would consider dishonestly billing additional hours for a bonus.
In the paper The ethical identity of law students published in the latest edition of the International Journal of the Legal Profession, a group led by University College London Law and Professional Ethics Professor Richard Moorhead surveyed 441 students studying in England and Wales and 569 students studying in the US.
In a hypothetical situation, the respondents were asked to picture themselves as a lawyer consulting on a project who is completing a time sheet that will determine whether they would receive a £3,000 / $5,000 bonus.
In the situation, the lawyer is short 5 hours of the 500 billable hours necessary for the bonus, but they could bill 5 additional hours spent on a training course, though against company policy, without anyone finding out.
Respondents were asked how likely they are to bill the additional hours on a seven-point scale ranging from “very unlikely” to “very likely”.
The professor and co-authors Catrina Denvir, Rachel Cahill-O’Callaghan, Maryam Kouchakki and Stephen Galoob found that among UK students, 12% indicated “somewhat likely,” 8% indicated “likely” while 4% indicated “very likely” for a total of 24% or about one in four students who would consider falsifying billed hours to receive a bonus.
Among US students, 12% answered “somewhat likely,” 5% indicated “likely” while 3% indicated “very likely.”
Furthermore, the researchers noted that the figure may even be higher in reality.
“When we have presented these results to students and colleagues they suggest quite strongly that the results under-estimate the likelihood of unethical conduct,” they said.
“This intuitive response fits with the view that these findings would be subject to a bias which may inhibit admissions of likely unethical conduct, even though the survey is anonymous.”
The research also found that female law students showed more ethical conduct compared to male law students.
Female law students were also found to have a lower sense of entitlement and a stronger need to want to be seen as a moral individual.
Additionally, the researchers found that among the respondents, those who intended to practice business law had weaker ethical propensity than peers who wanted to enter civil service.
GCs increasingly face ethical dilemmas, survey finds
Rampant bullying widely tolerated in American BigLaws
Privilege boosts gender bias for law firm applicants