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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Lawyer Who Wants to Transform Legal Ethics with Behavioral Science

Brian Gallagher
www.ethicalsystems.org
Originally posted May 28, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

In a paper on the psychology of conflicts of interest, you wrote that, “Too often, the Supreme Court has made assumptions about the behavior of defense lawyers without empirical support.” How does behavioral science inform the way the Supreme Court should think about defense lawyers?

In the last 40 years, the Supreme Court has analyzed conflicts of interest in a manner that, I believe, makes unsupported assumptions about how criminal defense lawyers respond to allegations about their own misbehavior. My argument is that lawyers—like all people—are poorly equipped to recognize and address their own conflicts of interest. As a result, I propose that constitutional standards for conflicts of interest should be treated more like the ethical rules concerning conflicts, which focus on the risk that a conflict will influence a lawyer’s behavior rather than whether a conflict has, in fact, caused an adverse effect on the legal representation that a client received. I’m happy that my analysis has been cited by a few state courts that have looked at these and similar issues—and who knows, maybe someday the Supreme Court will cite behavioral research in forming its opinion on this topic.

You recently shared a paper on your blog, calling it a “fascinating discussion of the role of behavioral ethics in the context of judicial decision-making.” Which points or lessons stood out to you the most?

Interestingly, in a series of decisions about the constitutional standards for judicial conflicts of interest, the Supreme Court seems to be a bit more behaviorally realistic about conflicts of interest than it has been about attorney conflicts. For instance, in a case from a few terms ago, the Supreme Court—in deciding whether a justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court could properly adjudicate a death penalty case when he had previously been the prosecutor who authorized capital charges against the defendant—noted that “bias is easy to attribute to others and difficult to discern in oneself.” The Court went even further, noting that when a judge is asked to participate in a case in which he or she previously served as a prosecutor, there is “a risk that the judge would be so psychologically wedded to his or her previous position as a prosecutor that the judge would consciously or unconsciously avoid the appearance of having erred or changed position.”

The info is here.

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