Sample Sociology Case Study on Conflict of Interest

Ethical Issues Presented in the Case

A prominent law firm, Hook, Line, and Sinker hired Christina Benning as a consultant in jury selection for an upcoming murder trial. During the course of the trial, Christina Benning created a model for predicting decision-making injuries which enabled the law firm to win the murder case. Christina Benning has been offered an advance of $5 million to expose her role in Hook, Line, and Sinker’s defense strategy for the murder case. The ethical issue manifested in the Christina Benning case study is that of conflict of interest.  Christina Benning has to choose whether to accept the $5 million and go public with the law firm’s defense strategy or protect the confidential information she received from her client during the murder case.

The ethical issue arising in the Christina Benning case is that of financial conflict of interest as she has to choose between $5 million or upholding her client confidentiality duties. Section 9.03 of the American Sociological Association’s (ASA) code of ethics holds that financial conflict of interest occurs when an individual seeks to gain financially from information or material received in a confidential context (American Sociological Association, 1999). All information shared between a defendant and his or her defense attorneys is deemed confidential and is protected under the attorney-client privilege (Sox, 2017). Therefore, Christina Benning, having been part of the defendant’s defense team, will have to make an ethical choice on whether to go public with her client’s confidential information or forfeit the offered $ 5 million.

Response to Ethical Issue

Upon being hired by Hook, Line, and Sinker law firm as a consultant in jury selection Christina Benning became a member of the company’s defense team. Being a professional consultant every information shared between Christina and her clients is protected under the consultant-client confidentiality privilege. The consultant-client confidentiality privilege implores upon consultants the duty to confidentially safeguard all pertinent information shared to them by their clients (Layon, Gabrielli, & Layon, 2017). Christina upon being hired as a consultant by the law firm activated a consultant-client confidentiality duty which requires her to safeguard all the privileged information provided to her by the client. Moreover, during the trial, Christina utilized privileged information from her client to develop a jury decision-making model that enabled them to win the case. Besides, Christina has not been granted any authorization by her client nor her employer, Hook, Line, and Sinker, to make public her role in the murder trial. According to Sox (2017), the consultant-client confidentiality duty can only be waived through the express consent of the client or by a valid legal process. Christina has not only been granted consent by her client but also not undertaken any legal process aimed at waiving the confidentiality duty.

Conflict of interest is an ethical issue that arises when divergent interests prevent individuals from impartially performing their professional work. According to Ali (2017), conflict of interest is a set of conditions in which professional decision-making concerning a primary interest is unduly influenced by a secondary interest. Primary interests are the core professional objectives an individual is supposed to meet in the normal course of his or her profession (Ali, 2017). For example in the case study, the primary interest of Christina Benning as a consultant is to protect her client’s privileged information. Secondary interests, however, are the conditions that affect a professional’s objectivity in the course of his or her work and they include; financial, personal, and intellectual interests (Ali, 2017). In Christina Benning’s case, her primary interests were affected by financial interests. Section 9 of the ASA Code of ethics implores professionals to avoid instances of personal gain or seek full disclosure when facing a possible conflict of interest scenario (American Sociological Association, 1999). I, therefore, recommend that Christina Benning has to reject the financial deal to protect her client’s privileged information.

Comparison and Contrast

ASA’s recommendation to Christina Benning’s case study involving financial conflict of interest is largely similar to what I have discussed above. In their recommendation, ASA holds that professionals handling conflict of interests should recognize situations in which there is a conflict of interest and avoid relationships that may precipitate such conflicts (American Sociological Association, 1999). This is quite similar to my recommendation which requires Christina Benning to reject the $5 million offered for her to make public her involvement in the murder trial. Both our recommendations are based on the fact that accepting the $ 5 million will impact Benning’s ability to objectively fulfill her primary interests of confidentially safeguarding her client’s privileged information.

I hold a contrary opinion to ASA’s argument that professionals engaged in a conflict of interest should provide full disclosure of financial conflict of interest to affected parties. In the case study, full disclosure of conflict of interest by Christina Benning is not a foolproof strategy of protecting her client’s privileged information from going public. Thus, I believe that the only way Christina Benning can ethically safeguard her client’s privileged information is by completely avoiding the $5 million offer.

 

 

References

Ali, K. K. (2017). Conflict of Interest: Engaging with Alatas’ Ideas in the Sociology of Corruption. Global Business and Management Research9(1s), 198. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/openview/1b2164c1046c3dca0d525397520ad335/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=696409

American Sociological Association. (1999). ASA code of ethics. Washington, DC: ASA.

Layon, N. T., Gabrielli, A., & Layon, A. J. (2017). Ethics, Morality, and Consulting: The Moral Problem of the Commons. The American journal of medicine130(2), e77. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2016.09.001

Sox, H. C. (2017). Conflict of interest in practice guidelines panels. Jama317(17), 1739-1740. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2017.2701