Why You Don't Need a 'Business Case' to Do What's Right

By William Vogeler, Esq. on September 21, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

By his own account, Honest Abe was not an accomplished lawyer.

After leaving the law for politics, however, Abraham Lincoln advised younger practitioners to avoid "shady dealings" and to "discourage litigation." His personal integrity led him to the White House and foreshadowed his greatest accomplishments.

"As a peacemaker, the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man," he said. "There will still be business enough."

"Business Enough"

The United States has changed a lot since Lincoln, but integrity still pays -- especially in corporate America. General counsel don't need a business reason to advise clients to do the right thing.

Alison Taylor, a business consultant and adjunct professor at Fordham Law School, says there is always a business case for integrity. But it is important to focus on the long-term.

"The benefit to a company should ultimately manifest in an improved reputation and long-term strategic position, but advocates for reform must hold their nerve in the short term, especially as investor sentiment vacillates," she writes for Harvard Business Review.

Taylor says that business leaders are not easily swayed by arguments for caution. "Tell an executive that they need to spend a lot to avert a low-likelihood, worst-case scenario, and their eyes will glaze over," she writes.

Your Best Argument

Instead, general counsel should appeal to executives' sense of "business integrity to provide an inspirational narrative." She said business is well-placed to assume that leadership role in society.

"Most corporate leaders know this," she says. "They understand the power of reputation and relationships."

According to recent research, the majority of businesses believe that a well-defined corporate purpose is more important than maximizing shareholder value. The survey of nearly 1,500 business leaders showed that 73 percent believe a strong corporate purpose is the company's main role in the global economy.

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