Cover of report with author names, title, and harvard logo.

This project is a collaboration between leading thinkers from multiple sides of the legal profession: Professor David B. Wilkins (Harvard Law School), Mr. Benjamin Heineman, Jr. (CLP Distinguished Senior Fellow and former General Counsel of General Electric) and Mr. William Lee (Partner, WilmerHale). The essay lays out their vision of lawyers as professionals and citizens in the 21st century.

This essay presents a practical vision of the responsibilities of lawyers as both professionals and as citizens at the beginning of the 21st century. Specifically, we seek to define and give content to four ethical responsibilities that we believe are of signal importance to lawyers in their fundamental roles as expert technicians, wise counselors, and effective leaders: responsibilities to their clients and stakeholders; responsibilities to the legal system; responsibilities to their institutions; and responsibilities to society at large. Our fundamental point is that the ethical dimensions of lawyering for this era must be given equal attention to—and must be highlighted and integrated with—the significant economic, political, and cultural changes affecting major legal institutions and the people and institutions lawyers serve.

We have chosen to write this essay as a joint statement from a former general counsel of a global corporation, a former managing partner of an international law firm, and a professor of the legal profession at a major law school. We therefore focus our discussion on the four ethical duties in the institutions we know best—corporate legal departments, large law firms, and leading law schools—and on the important connections among them. But we also hope that both the ethical framework we propose and our commitment to a shared responsibility for giving it practical effect will have resonance in the many other important settings in which lawyers work. The four duties are, we believe, central to what it means to be a lawyer, even as the practical expression of these responsibilities will undoubtedly vary by context and will require new and greater collaboration that reaches across many of the profession’s traditional divides.


Leadership in Law Firms

Executive Education
April 28, 2024 - May 3, 2024