Category Archives: BLE in the Media

Ethical Systems’ new E-book: Head to Head

ESProfiled in today’s Wall Street Journal, the new E-book by Ethical Systems, Head to Head: A Conversation on Behavioral Science and Ethics, is a great introduction to the subject. Easily accessible to non-experts, the book is formatted as an interesting conversation between ES’s CEO, Azish Filabi, and Jeff Kaplan, a leader in the field of Compliance & Ethics (Kaplan’s Conflicts of Interest blog provides a wealth of useful material on behavioral ethics in the compliance field). As the WSJ noted today:

Behavioral science can help organizations improve their ethics and compliance programs, but wading through the academic prose of such research reports can make them less useful to the people tasked with overseeing those programs. A new e-book from Ethical Systems, a collaboration of researchers that promote ethical business culture, highlights the latest insights from the behavioral science field and provides action points for organizations to incorporate any lessons that are learned.

Many of the behavioral topics in Head to Head will be familiar to readers of this blog, such as overconfidence bias, the “Holier Than Thou” effect, conformity bias, priming by money, the corrupting influence of power, slippery slopes, the counterfeit self, and the power of nudges. A great read for anyone who wants a lively refresher on the power of behavioral science to shape ethical decision-making.

Update: 10/10/17: Ethics and Compliance Initiative has posted a webcast by the two authors of Head to Head, which is available here (the webcast is free; registration required).


New ABA Video — “Hidden Injustice: Toward a Better Defense”


As I’ve noted previously, research on implicit bias has taken hold at the highest levels of government, with the U.S. Department of Justice requiring training on implicit bias for all of its employees.

Criminal defense lawyers, of course, are also prone to implicit bias, as Professor L. Song Richardson has written in her excellent article in the Yale Law Journal. Now she and other experts discuss implicit bias and criminal defense in a new video, produced by the ABA, which is available here. It is an excellent introduction to the subject, and can be quite useful in classroom discussions (I plan to use it in my criminal defense ethics class this semester).

(The research basis for implicit bias also corresponds with the reasons why lawyers for indigent defendants can suffer from what I call “ethical blindness,” as I have written elsewhere).

Happy viewing!

Lawyers Behaving Badly

60_minutes I have watched the 60 Minutes story, Anonymous, Inc. (link here), only once and have just skimmed the report by Global Witness, so let me start by saying that these are very preliminary assessments – but on first blush, what I have seen is quite disturbing: a dozen lawyers from different firms, when presented with the opportunity for a significant fee, provided preliminary advice on how to help a potential client “scrub” dirty money by explaining how to structure transactions to hide the source of the funds (in contrast, a thirteenth lawyer who was approached refused to provide any advice or assistance to the potential client). There are a wide number of ethical questions raised: do the prescriptions of Model Rule 1.2(d) apply to prospective clients?; to what extent do the lawyers in the video “know” that the prospective client has obtained the funds through crime or fraud?; what obligation exists to perform due diligence to determine if the funds are the result of crime or fraud, etc.? (Two prominent ethics experts, who provided an opinion about the conduct of the lawyers involved in the story, have expanded on their views here).

There are also some very interesting behavioral questions: why would these lawyers, who presumably are aware of the ethical prohibitions against assisting fraud and criminal conduct, seemingly skate toward (or over) the edge of permissible conduct so easily? Merely out of greed and avarice or because of powerful behavioral factors, such as partisan bias, where advancing a (potential) client’s interest trumps the formal rules prohibiting such conduct? Is cognitive dissonance at play: once the lawyer starts to provide advice on how to structure a transaction to protect anonymity is there a need to rationalize the behavior as consistent with the ethical rules? Is motivated reasoning afoot – allowing the lawyers to convince themselves that the rules are ambiguous enough that the advice (and the potential hefty fee) is permissible? How about moral disengagement — after all, the misbehavior that produced the dirty money happened far away, across the globe, with no identifiable (or at least immediately salient) victims? Per this last point, is this an example of ethical fading, where the business aspects of the decision (how to provide the potential client with technical advice on how to hide the source of the funds) crowded out the ethical considerations involved? These are just some of the questions that jumped out at me as I watched this disturbing video.

I will spend more time thinking about these issues, posting more as I delve deeper.

(Disclosure: The CEO of Global Witness, which led this undercover investigation, and I worked together for many years and we are friends).

The First (Annual?) BLE Film Festival

Verite_student_film_festival_color.psd_2To my delight, this year has turned into a festival of sorts for a wonderful set of new films about social psychology, behavioral science and ethics.  As we’ve discussed previously, Dan Ariely’s new film, (Dis)honesty: The Truth About Lies, has been released to favorable reviews (e.g., here and here).

In addition, an amazing actor, Billy Crudup (find and watch Jesus’ Son if you haven’t), is starring as Philip Zimbardo in the soon-to-be released film version of the Stanford Prison Experiment. Here’s a fascinating interview with Dr. Zimbardo about the film and his work.

Last, but certainly not least, Stanley Milgram’s famous experiments and life story have come to the silver screen in Experimenter, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January (a trailer for the movie is here; review here) and is on the film festival circuit. It stars the wonderful Peter Sarsgaard as Milgram (I’ve been a big Sarsgaard fan since his recurring role on The Killing) and Winona Ryder as Milgram’s wife. When the film will be released for general viewing, I do not know – soon, I hope! (stay tuned for updates on Twitter: #experimenter).

Update 07/17/15:  MSNBC’s interview with Billy Crudup about the Stanford Prison Experiment is here.

Update: 07/27/15:  And now one more film  . . .  As the New York Times reported this weekend, the Kitty Genovese case — which has generated so much publicity over the last fifty years (and controversy about how it was reported) and made the Bystander Effect a household name — is the subject of a new film, entitled 37Here is the trailer. Stay tuned.