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How to encourage ethical behavior
A cautionary tale on organizational ethics
Rashmi Airan was an ambitious lawyer, by many measures at the top of her game leading her own law firm, when she lost sight of her own high standards for corporate ethics. After pleading guilty to charges of general conspiracy, she was sent to federal prison and had time to reflect on how she got there. She shared her story with us, including what she learned about how to encourage ethical behavior as an organizational leader.
- What CLOs needs to know to lead an ethics-focused organization
- An interview with Rashmi Airan
- Get in touch
What every chief legal officer (CLO) needs to know to lead an ethics-focused organization
Rashmi Airan graduated from Columbia Law School with honors, worked for several major law firms and corporations, and by 2004, was the managing partner of the law firm she founded. On December 19, 2014, she pled guilty to a general conspiracy count in federal court.
It was surreal and excruciatingly painful. The hearing itself only lasted about 10 minutes, but in that time, I lost my right to vote and serve on a jury. I ultimately agreed to a voluntary revocation of my bar license, which necessitated that I sell my interest in the law firm I founded. As I walked out of the hearing, all I could think was ‘how did I get here?’
So how did she get to that fateful day in court? Rashmi’s story starts during the housing boom in 2007. Despite being somewhat junior, she was aggressively recruited by a local real-estate developer to be its primary outside counsel. Driven by her desire to succeed financially and provide the best life possible for her children, she jumped at the chance to represent this important client and began to work with the team almost immediately.
“I let my ego take the reins and in the whirlwind of launching my own firm, building this client relationship, and the demands of mothering two young children, I failed to create a strong ethical framework for my business. Over the course of this representation, the client engaged in fraudulent business practices, and I chose not to question my client’s choices. Maybe I trusted too much, maybe I was too afraid to lose the client by pushing back, but ultimately, I didn’t ask the questions I knew I should be asking and I allowed the client’s decision making to go unchecked. My failure to represent the client in accordance with appropriate ethical standards resulted in a conviction that ultimately sent me to federal prison.”
“I wish I had taken the time to ask for help and have real discussions with the people around me to tackle the difficult questions that I was facing.”
I can admit now that I avoided discussing pertinent details with my staff and expected tasks to be completed without giving them context. I failed to clearly identify the need for ethics and values in the services we performed.
An interview with Rashmi Airan
I sat down with Rashmi to learn more about her experience and the insight she’s developed as a result.