What to Do When a Colleague Acts Unethically If your co-worker acted unethically, there are ways to fix it.
Q: One of my law partners had an intern pretend to be him and take an ethics course the partner needed to satisfy his continuing legal education requirement. When I learned about it, I challenged his actions. He pushed back, claiming he'd created a win-win situation: The intern benefited by taking the course, and the company benefited by his signing a new client while the intern stood in for him. He accused me of making a big deal over nothing. Am I?
A: This problem is bigger than lying; it underscores what happens when arrogance takes over a leader's thought process. It can be hard to argue with anyone who has rationalized his self-interest and unethical behavior into a benefit to others. Challenge him on something he has decided is the right way to act, and he's sure to throw up a wall of righteous indignation.
Your partner's moral compass is jammed. He poses a hazard to your business because he can't think through unintended consequences of actions that could hurt others or the firm. In this case, he involved an intern in the fraud, likely trapping the younger person into compliance because of the partner's position. While the partner may have assumed it was a matter between the two of them, he has no idea how far the story will travel and whether there will be personal or professional repercussions.