47:2 Deep Links: Does Knowledge of the Law Change Managers’ Perceptions of the Role of Law and Ethics in Business?



Can knowledge of the law lead to a higher likelihood of ethical and legally compliant behavior? Our preliminary research suggests that it can. We surveyed 112 MBA students to ascertain their perceptions of the role of law in business as well as to determine whether a course in law had any impact on their perceptions. Our findings suggest that knowledge of the law can prompt managers to become more legally compliant and more socially responsible. Deeper probing with the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique revealed three deep metaphors of the role of law in business: system, moral balance, and force.

The results of both the quantitative and qualitative research suggest that an integrated approach to law, business, and ethics would be more effective in making managers more legally compliant and ethical than training in business law or ethics taken alone. Our research also suggests that attorneys who understand how managers conceptualize the role of law in business may be more effective advocates for legal and ethical compliance. Ignoring the role law plays in making markets possible threatens to undermine managers’ appreciation of the manner in which law undergirds the capitalist system. Teaching materials that highlight the linkages between law, business, and societal welfare would appear to have a greater likelihood of altering managers’ perceptions and thus their behavior than simply exhorting managers to be ethical or to comply with the law.