Ethics can mean different things to different people: morals, values, principles. To the Honorable Doug Lang of the 5th District Court of Appeals, it’s a combination of honesty, integrity, and civility. Justice Lang, currently a student at the University of Dallas’ School of Ministry, spoke to Dr. Greg Bell’s Business Foundations class on March 31 about the importance of ethics—in the public areas of law and business and in the private areas of our personal lives. “Although some people say that ethics are fuzzy and can’t be articulated, the truth is, they are very simple,” Lang said. “They can be summed up by the rules you probably learned in kindergarten: don’t lie, don’t steal, and don’t hit anyone.”
Lang defined honesty as simply telling the truth and cited examples of professions which demand honesty of their practitioners. “The CPA’s code states that its members should have self-discipline above and beyond what’s required by the laws and regulations that govern them,” he said. “And attorneys must swear not to make false statements or to withhold material facts.” Lang added that businesses must be subject to moral principles as well, and that the way a business behaves is not separate from individual ethics—the same principles apply.
Lang went on to discuss how a business’ ethics and moral principles will serve as the foundation of its reputation and how the status of that reputation can translate into profits for the company. “Businesses that hold the highest ethical standards inspire trust and confidence. And when they establish a reputation of honesty, word of mouth brings in more business,” he said. “In that way, honesty pays.” Lang tied honesty to integrity, which he defined as reliability. “Integrity is when you know that someone is going to the do the right thing,” he said.
Also within this spectrum of ethics is civility. “Civility is respect for others,” he said. “And it envelops the concepts of honesty and integrity. They are all different concepts within a greater whole.” Lang said that civility is a respectful posture towards both customers and competitors. “We have to respect our adversaries,” he said. He also described civility by giving examples of its opposite: incivility. He cited the statistic that managers of Fortune 1000 companies typically spend seven weeks of every year dealing with the aftermath of incivility. “That’s lost productivity,” Lang said. “And it means that businesses must begin to manage, teach, and hire for civility.”
Finally, Lang discussed his decades-long career as a lawyer and the rewards and challenges he faced along the way. “To begin, law school will be the three most difficult years of your life,” he said. “It will be the hardest work you will have done.” Lang advised students interested in a law career to do their research. “Learn about what it really means to be a lawyer. Don’t just base your idea from what you’ve seen on TV” he said. “Read law magazines, go to law websites, and talk to lawyers about what they do.” Lang also said that working part time at a law firm can give students a clearer picture of what a career in law would be like.
Lang sees the future of the legal profession as more of the same. “There will always be real estate lawyers needed for the buying and selling of dirt,” he said. “And the amount of regulations on businesses–things like environmental laws and building codes–is only going to increase.”
Lang also said that there will always be a need for litigation and appeals, what he called hard, strenuous work that can be depleting and not always rewarding. “Losing is like being kicked in the head a thousand times,” he said. “But winning is—wow!”
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