Ethical standing among community members and business persons is held in high regard. The matter of trust needs to be had at all times so that people know that their information is safe. When ethical issues arise, somewhere, somehow there has to be someone who is able and willing to stand up and report the unethical issue. All professionals are bound by ethics and the responsibility to report wrong doing.
In this case, the widow’s attorney is charging the widow 12-14% more than his average percentage with respects to his other clients. Normal everyday ethics suggest that not only is he acting in bad ethics but obviously is taking advantage of this widow. Charlie, even if not mandated by law or administrative rule, should inform the widow. This would be the right and respectful thing to do but is Charlie mandated by any code of ethics to act on this information and inform her is the real question.
Charlie, even though he is not the person creating the ethical situation, is bound by ethical codes to inform this widow at the very least but more appropriately the governing agency, of the actions of her attorney. As stated in the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct for CPA’s “members should act with integrity, guided by the precept that when members fulfill their responsibility to the public, clients’ and employers’ interests are best served.” (ET Section 53 – Article II—The Public Interest, ET Section 52 – Article I—Responsibilities, ET Section 54 – Article III—Integrity & ET Section 56 – Article V—Due Care of the AICPA).
The biggest ethical issue is honesty, integrity and the personal gain issues. The attorney stands to gain a substantial amount of money, well more than what he should for his services. The code of ethics for attorney’s alone is violated is drastic ways. Some states have statutes on how an attorney charges their client and some rely of good ethical behavior but this aside, attorneys are to charge only what is fair and consistent with how they charge everyone else.
This attorney is violating a huge public interest and the widow can file a complaint and the attorney stands to lose his liscense to practice law. Charlie can also intervene and simply make a phone call to the governing agency as this particular information that he knows, is not bound by the confidentiality laws as this information was derived not by the widows words but by the admittance of the attorney in which there is no confidentiality as there is no client issue due to the fact that Charlie is not asking for advice and the lawyer is not giving it.
AICPA Code of Professional Conduct. 2006-2008. http://www.aicpa.org/About/code/sec50.htm
New Jersey Judiciary. Office of Attorney Ethics. 2001 http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/oae/OAEEthicsPamphlet.pdf