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Time to Shrink to Greatness? Networks and Conflicts of Interests in Large Professional Firms

Abstract : Conflicts of interests are often dealt with by arguing that individuals, not institutions, are responsible for behaving unethically. In fact, institutions often push individuals to behave unethically. Individuals would need to be heroes to behave differently. This is particularly visible in organizations whose members are professionals; as brokers and boundary spanners, they use conflicts of interests to increase the power of their firm. Organizations cover themselves against accusations of unethical behavior by introducing formal organizational separations between their members, replicating inside the organization the boundaries that reflect external conflict. An example of such organizational devices are provided by Chinese walls. Using a network study of a New Eng- land corporate law firm, I look into the black box of such organizations and show that it is impossible for members to respect such Chinese walls unless they are heroes. The question arising from this analysis is, therefore, whether or not it is time for such professional firms to shrink to greatness. If members cannot be expected to be heroes, should their institutions not be redesigned so as to prevent unethical behavior without counting on their heroism?
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Emmanuel Lazega. Time to Shrink to Greatness? Networks and Conflicts of Interests in Large Professional Firms. Revue für post-heroisches Management, 2012, pp.34-43. ⟨hal-01024519⟩

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