Philosophy 318: Professional Ethics
Theodore Gracyk

Outline of Bayles Essay


What is the professional-client relationship?

Five possible types of professional relationships. They are distinguished according to allocation of responsibility & authority.

Ask this question: does the client allow the professional to decide? Or does the professional advise, and the client gives informed consent? Or is the professional a "hired gun," directed by the employer/client?

C = client and P = professional

  • AGENCY the professional as "hired gun"

    P does what C instructs P to do for C.
    CLIENT is responsible for selecting a goal, and PROFESSIONAL does not evaluate that goal. P is there to advance C's interests as C sees them.

    But this can't always apply (e.g., a financial audit) and it SHOULD NOT, because C often seeks wrongful 3rd party harm, and because it ignores the role of professional judgment.

  • CONTRACTUAL C and P enter into a legally enforceable agreement about division of responsibilities for tasks.

    Since this requires free entry into the contract, contracts presuppose a high level of knowledge for both parties. So this cannot hold if the tasks require high levels of expert knowledge, which is the actual root of most professional-client relationships.
  • FRIENDSHIP (also called AFFINITY)   Clients often expect the relationship to be a "special" relationship, in which P works to help C in the way that one friend helps another.

    However, this is really a false understanding by clients. It's P's duty to support C. But P gives this support because they are a client, and does so for the money, not because of who C is. But our friends are our friends because they are special in our lives. Someone who charges you money to talk to you is NOT in a friendship relationship. (A friend would not work against another person if they are also their friend, yet P would willingly help people working against C, if they were clients first!)
  • PATERNALISM Built on recognition that P and C are not equals: P knows more then C. Therefore all important tasks done by P (or all except implementation of a plan that P creates). P should treat C the way a parent treats a child: looking out for them, but making all the decisions.

    A test: outside of the professional-client relationship, when do we surrender autonomy to this degree? When a person is unable to do so for themselves.

    However, there is an aspect of the professional-client relationship where C can do so, and should, and that is balancing the competing interests that are in play in pursuing a goal or adopting a course of action toward it. FREQUENTLY, P's advice is in conflict with C's other interests, and P has no expertise in balancing those competing interests.

    And, in studies, professionals routinely underestimate the value that clients place on their own goals and situation, and settle for less than the clients want.

  • FIDUCIARY The goal is informed consent. All decisions rest with the C, but C relies heavily on Ps expert judgment to analyze, guide, etc.  P proposes, but C must consent. It is P's job to understand C's goals and interests, to propose steps to secure those goals and interests. The greater the knowledge difference between C and P due to P's training, the greater the responsibility to advance C's interests in offering choices to C.

The fiduciary relationship is appropriate in MOST situations where C is an intelligent adult. There should be a good reason before having any other kind of relationship.  Normally, even when C is a child, a second adult guardian should take the place of C in a fiduciary relationship with P.


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            Last updated Jan. 20, 2016