Honesty Among Lawyers: Moral Character, Game Framing, and Honest Disclosures in Negotiations
ethics, game framing, honesty, law, lawyers, moral character, negotiation
Lawyers have broad discretion in deciding how honestly to behave when negotiating. We propose that lawyers’ choices about whether to disclose information to correct misimpressions by opposing counsel are guided by their moral character and their cognitive framing of negotiation. To investigate this possibility, we surveyed 215 lawyers from across the United States, examining the degree to which honest disclosure is associated with lawyers’ moral character and their tendency to frame negotiation in game-like terms—a construal of negotiation that we label game framing. We hypothesize that the more that lawyers view negotiation through a game frame—that is, the more they view negotiation as an adversarial context with arbitrary and artificial rules—the less honest they will be in situations in which honest disclosure is not mandated by professional rules of conduct. We further hypothesize that lawyers with higher levels of moral character will apply a game frame to negotiation to a lesser degree than will lawyers with lower levels of moral character, and that honesty when negotiating will be higher when lawyers have higher versus lower levels of moral character. Our study results support these hypotheses. This work suggests that focusing on game-like aspects of negotiation can induce a less moral and ethical mindset. To the extent that teaching law students to “think like a lawyer” encourages them to adopt a game frame of negotiation, we can expect such training to reduce the likelihood of honest disclosure.
Cohen, T., Helzer, E., & Creo, R. (2022). Honesty Among Lawyers: Moral Character, Game Framing, and Honest Disclosures in Negotiations. Negotiation Journal, 38 (2), 199-234. https://doi.org/10.1111/nejo.12394