Professional/Client Relationship and Morality

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Brian Ho
The Professions and Public Interest in American Life
Professor Willard/ T.A. Schmitt
Tuesday Session
2007 December 5

• Carefully distinguish between the “contract” and “covenant” understanding or model of the professional/client relationship. Which understanding makes a greater demand on the good moral character of the professional? Why? Take a reasoned position on whether or not the “covenant” understanding is more appropriate to the overall nature of that relationship.

Since the beginning of complex societies, the public has always been intrigued by the very broad idea of professionalism. And over the course of American history the age of information and computerization has paved the way for the public to gain a better understanding of what the professional title entails. However this understanding has served only to fuel the increasing interest in not just professions themselves, but the relationships between those professionals and their clients. In order to analyze this relationship, one must ask themselves if a professional should merely respond to the social investment in his training, the fees paid for his services, and the terms agreed upon between the professional and the client as in the contractual model, or instead on some willingness to not only trust the client but to go beyond expectations to serve the clients interests as in the covenants model.[1] It is the answer to this question that fully defines the differences between a contract and covenant model, and draws upon a greater demand for a good moral character in the covenant understanding which is appropriate in the professional client relationship.

One of the most common understandings in the professional/client relationship is that of a contractual nature. Essentially a contract is an informed agreement where both the professional and client know exactly what they want in return for their service. In that sense, there is no necessity for trust in the relationship between the professional and the client. Further more, a contractual agreement allows the professional and the client to explicitly state the rights, duties, conditions, and qualifications limited by the agreement. This allows for a doctor to claim his hours from 9am to 5pm and that after those hours he no longer has responsibility for his patient until his next shift begins. Being able to limit ones duty allows one to displace ones moral and ethical standards. Because a contractual agreement sets forth the limits regarding rights and duties in clear bold letters, legal enforcement of this agreement is possible.[2] This affords both parties protection and encourages both parties to remain accountable to the agreement and to the services that were agreed upon. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of a contract is that there is no required philanthropy or charity. The understanding is based purely on self interest, in the sense that the doctor is not healing patients just to help people, but rather to perform his duty and retain his title as a professional. When the professional and the client enter an agreement they do so according to the contract because they see it to their own advantage to do so. Thus, the contract relationship can be understood as an agreement made upon from self interest, and the services/duties provided will be limited based upon that contract.

Contract and Covenant relationships are similar to a certain extent, in that they both include an exchange and agreement between two groups. However, a contract agreement is external while a covenant is internal. This means that contracts can be signed and then discarded and forgotten, but a covenant is deeper than that. With the covenant model, the participants go beyond the agreement because the relationship will still last long after the services are provided. Essentially, unlike the contract where philanthropy is not expected, covenants have a sort of donating element.[3] This means...
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