Oath, What Oath?

I came across the MBA Oath a few weeks ago and immediately started wondering about a similar oath for attorneys.  I know in South Africa attorneys swear an Oath at the admission ceremony in court – something about upholding the Constitution and being a fit and proper person.  I’m struggling to recall the words so I am trying to get hold of that Oath.

My first call yesterday was to the Cape Law Society. They couldn’t help. I am fascinated by this. Nevermind that that they can’t recite it, that it is not written on their walls, but they don’t have a copy of it that they can make available to me. It’s as if the ethical underpinnings of the entire profession…are, um, MIA.

I decided to take it further so I emailed…well, let’s just say, I emailed someone VERY SENIOR in terms of attorneys in SA. He responded “Great Idea!” and kindly passed on my query – and today I got an email from the head of another province’s law society.  Who says I should contact the High Court. So that’s 2 provincial law societies unable to provide a copy of the Oath that every one of the 57 000 attorneys alive in this country is supposed to be upholding.  

So I called the High Court a  few minutes ago.  The various registrars are unable to help me, I should apparently wait for the Deputy Judge President’s secretary (who is involved in the swearing in of attorneys from time to time, so I gather) to answer the phone. This will probably be on Monday.

And we wonder why the legal profession is perceived as lacking in ethics.

While I endeavour to get hold of the current Attorney’s oath, here is a little background on the MBA Oath:  It was started by Harvard MBA students in 2009, largely as a response to the global financial crisis. This crisis “prompted many in the public and in the press to question whether business schools are successfully executing their missions of educating leaders for society. How did we get into this crisis? Why didn’t business school professors sound the alarms in advance of the meltdown? Why were so many MBAs involved in the decisions leading up to the crisis? Are MBAs so concerned with increasing their personal wealth that they ignore ethics and their responsibilities to society?”

I believe as lawyers we should be asking exactly the same questions of ourselves.

  • How did we get into a situation where lawyers are by and large regarded as sharks?
  • Why are law school professors not sounding the alarm?
  • Why are so many lawyers involved in the deals leading to global financial crises?
  • Are lawyers so concerned with increasing their personal wealth that they ignore ethics and their responsibilities to society?

And I think the time might be ripe for an Attorney’s Oath – one that goes far deeper than swearing to uphold the Constitution.  This is the MBA Oath which I think is a wonderful basis for the development of one for attorneys.


As a business leader I recognize my role in society.

•  My purpose is to lead people and manage resources to create value that no single individual can create alone.

•  My decisions affect the well-being of individuals inside and outside my enterprise, today and tomorrow.

Therefore, I promise that:

•  I will manage my enterprise with loyalty and care, and will not advance my personal interests at the expense of my enterprise or society.

•  I will understand and uphold, in letter and spirit, the laws and contracts governing my conduct and that of my enterprise.

•  I will refrain from corruption, unfair competition, or business practices harmful to society.

•  I will protect the human rights and dignity of all people affected by my enterprise, and I will oppose discrimination and exploitation.

•  I will protect the right of future generations to advance their standard of living and enjoy a healthy planet.

•  I will report the performance and risks of my enterprise accurately and honestly.

•  I will invest in developing myself and others, helping the management profession continue to advance and create sustainable and inclusive prosperity.

In exercising my professional duties according to these principles, I recognize that my behavior must set an example of integrity, eliciting trust and esteem from those I serve. I will remain accountable to my peers and to society for my actions and for upholding these standards.

This oath I make freely, and upon my honor*. 

I believe in having a BHAG. (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). Wonder if I can get  5000 attorneys to sign an Attorneys Oath (that I better get working on) by the end of 2012?

* US Spelling – they leave out letters 😉


6 responses to “Oath, What Oath?

  1. Well……no offence to the more ethical MBA grads – but I’m not seeing much social conscience in most business practice. Also – i think it opens up the prickly issue of what are ethics? who’s ethics? who has the right ethics? a very frustrating module in my MPhil 😉


    • I don’t think taking the Oath is a solution to unethical business practices – but it is a way of drawing attention to the issue. And you’re right – ethics is a prickly issue. Thought you’d like this: “Ethics does not in this age, form an essential part of the sword or shield of the majority of legal practices. Ethics is more likely to be slashed by the slick lawyer and trodden upon to get to the loot” – Govender K Chairperson of the Ethics Committee in the Ethics Committee Report, Law Society of South Africa, Annual Report 2010/11.

      But an Attorneys Oath is a place to start raising awareness – and draw attention to the fact that although an important requirement for admission as an attorney or advocate is to be a “fit and proper” person – This requirement of being a “fit and proper” person is not defined or described in legislation. I wish to provoke discussion/ debate on the issue and a new voluntary Oath would certainly do this.


      • True true….also, like the ever popular “vision” mechanism or the “indicator development” process, its also a way of raising awareness of what is constructive and non-harmful activity. and I suppose we can take our cues from the constitution….even though its very holy in terms of what takes precedence of what’s rights. Case in point – NEMA.


  2. Did you end up finding the oath please? I have also been looking for it.


    • No I didn’t! And thanks for the reminder. I’m feeling guilty now…it just slipped to the back of the to-do list with all my organisation for the April seminars with the amazing Pauline Tesler from San Francisco. I will get that oath somehow! if you lay hands on it first- kindly forward to me.


  3. hi, did you ever find the attorneys oath. i was also just looking for it as i was hoping to print it and have it framed to be put up on our office wall but i cant find it.


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