An Unethical Ethics Conference

The Fourth International Legal Ethics Conference at Stanford Law School has lined up  over 100 speakers. It is giving them no honorarium, hotel, meals or travel expenses, and despite the fact that they are providing the content and attraction for the event, the Conference still requires them to pay  registration fee of $350. Stanford is also charging its students a registration fee to attend, generously reduced to “only” $250.  But the conference can afford to be so generous, because it will also be getting registration fees from lawyers who are required to fulfill bar-mandated Continuing Legal Education requirements.

I have argued, and behavioral science suggests, that thinking about ethics helps one’s ethics alarms work well and often. The Stanford Conference suggests that either this is not as certain as I believed, or that the people running the ethics conference don’t actually think about ethics, which, if true, adds fraud to their list of ethical outrages.

The unfair and irresponsible requirements of the Stanford event has prompted least one prominent legal ethicist, Prof Monroe Freedman, to abandon plans to attend, saying, “I’m a card-carrying capitalist, but this kind of exploitation in the name of ethics could turn me into a Marxist, or a cynic.”

We should be concerned about a culture whose those in the ethics business are increasingly unethical. The sad lesson seems to be that when there is a conflict between commerce and ethics, commerce wins.

5 thoughts on “An Unethical Ethics Conference

  1. I am wondering why this is unethical. At scientific conferences, the speakers are required to register, get no honorarium, etc either. This is normal for all meetings. A registration fee of $350 would be about in the median for such meeings. Students are required to register, but their fees are much lower (usually $15-$35). Meetings cost money and the organizations running them are usually nonprofits without the means to supply a convention center for 5,000-40,000 people without charging such fees.

    The student fee made me raise my eyebrows some, though. That seems ridiculous. The people making money in the field should be willing to subsidize the meeting for the students a little more than that.

    • I must disagree Michael. While I don’t understand the intricacies of why charging your attendees is unethical, standard practice is that if you participate as a speaker at an event, at least your registration fee is waived so you can see other speakers and contribute to the communal knowledge.

      Although, it is capitalism. The idea of waiving the registration fee is to attract talent to speak and also serves as compensation for sharing their acquired knowledge. If I were one of the 100 speakers, why would I waste my time preparing and giving a speech when I could pay the same money and get the same experience.

      Let’s move on. 100 speakers! Are you kidding me? How huge is this event?!?! That sounds like 4 time slots a day with 5 concurrent breakout sections for each time slot for 5 days. Even the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics annual conference is 3.5 days and has 60ish speakers. Though, that one runs you about $900+.

    • Boy, I think it is always unethical to charge the people who create your content, when you are making money with it. Monroe was spot on, in my view. I speak at events without an honorarium on occasion, but expect my transportation and lodging to be paid. The combination here of charging speakers, not paying expenses, charging three figures to students AND getting tuition from lawyers is just plain greed. I have a running battle with a local community theater with its own venue, that runs shows for four and five weeks and 20 odd performances, sells out its seats at 25 bucks a person, refuses to pay its actors and makes them pay to join the organization and another fee to attend their own cast party! (Actors put up with it because actors like to act). It’s exploitation, and I think the Stanford conference is close enough for horseshoes.

  2. Give me a break. Stanford can’t afford minimal
    honoraria and travel expense for ethics experts to participate in their forum? And they are charging STUDENTS for the joy of attending?


    If Stanford, not as rich as Harvard but with accessible funds, chooses to make ethics a money-maker, then shame on them. They have found a way to jump on the bandwagon and line their pockets in the process. Another respected university bites the ethics dust.

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