Similar to medicine, law and religious ordination, engineering is considered a "profession" rather than an "occupation" because of the characteristics shared with other learned professions: special knowledge, special privileges, and special responsibilities. Because of their importance to society, professions require a large knowledge base gained from extensive training and apprenticeship.
Professions control the training and evaluation processes that admit new practitioners to their fields. They have autonomy in the workplace; they are expected to utilize their independent judgment in carrying out their professional responsibilities. Perhaps most importantly, professions are regulated by rigorous ethical standards. (Harris, Pritchard & Rabins; Engineering Ethics, Wadsworth Publishing,1995.)
In order to serve society effectively, engineers must maintain a high level of technical competence. However, a high level of technical expertise without adherence to ethical guidelines is as much a threat to public welfare as is professional incompetence. The ethical principles governing engineering professions are embodied in codes of ethics. Such codes have been adopted by state boards of registration, professional engineering societies, and private industries.
Just as individual states base their constitutions on the U.S. Constitution, state engineering boards base their ethical codes on a set of Model Rules written by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). In some cases, state boards wholly adopt the Model Rules, while in others, changes must be made to align the rules with existing state laws and court decisions.
The American Society of Legal Engineers based their model rules on the NPSE Model Rules https://www.nspe.org/resources/ethics/code-ethics, and will modify their rules as needed to advance the profession of Legal Engineering. As the profession gains acceptance, state boards of professional oversight are encouraged to adopt rules based on the ASLE model rules.
No code can give immediate and mechanical answers to all ethical and professional problems that an engineer may face. Creative problem solving is often called for in ethics, just as it is in other areas of engineering.
The American Society of Legal Engineers Model Code of Ethics
Engineering is an important and learned profession. As members of this profession, engineers are expected to exhibit the highest standards of honesty and integrity. Engineering has a direct and vital impact on the quality of life for all people. Accordingly, the services provided by engineers require honesty, impartiality, fairness, and equity, and must be dedicated to the protection of the public health, safety, and welfare. Engineers must perform under a standard of professional behavior that requires adherence to the highest principles of ethical conduct.
1) Fundamental Canons
Engineers, in the fulfillment of their professional duties, shall:
a. Hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.
b. Perform services only in areas of their competence.
c. Issue public statements only in an objective and truthful manner.
d. Act for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees.
e. Avoid deceptive acts.
f. Conduct themselves honorably, responsibly, ethically, and lawfully so as to enhance the honor, reputation, and usefulness of the profession.
2) Public Interest
a. If an engineer’s judgment is overruled under circumstances that endanger life or property, they shall notify their employer or client and such other authority as may be appropriate.
b. Engineers shall not complete, sign, seal, push or post plans, specifications or software that are not in conformity with applicable engineering standards. If the client or employer insists on such unprofessional conduct, they shall notify the proper authorities and withdraw from further service on the project.
c. Engineers are encouraged to extend public knowledge and appreciation of engineering and its achievements.
d. Engineers are encouraged to participate in civic affairs; career guidance for youths; and work for the advancement of the safety, health, and well-being of their community.
e. Engineers are encouraged to adhere to the principles of sustainable operations to protect the environment for future generations.
3) Client Privacy and Lawful Behavior
a. Engineers shall not reveal facts, data, software code or information without the prior consent of a supervising attorney, client or employer except as authorized or required by law or this Code.
b. Engineers shall not permit the use of their name or associate in business ventures with any person or firm that they believe is engaged in fraudulent or dishonest enterprise.
4) Lawful Behavior
a. Engineers shall not aid or abet the unlawful practice of engineering by a person or firm.
b. Engineers having knowledge of any alleged violation of this Code shall report to appropriate professional bodies and, when relevant, also to public authorities, and cooperate with the proper authorities in furnishing such information or assistance as may be required.
5) Professional Competence and Responsibility
a. Engineers shall undertake assignments only when qualified by education or experience in the specific technical fields involved.
b. Engineers shall not affix their name or signatures to any plans, documents or software dealing with subject matter in which they lack competence, nor to any plan, document or software not prepared under their direction and control.
c. Engineers may accept assignments and assume responsibility for coordination of an entire project and sign and seal the engineering documents for the entire project, provided that each technical segment is signed and sealed only by the qualified engineers who prepared the segment.
d. Engineers shall not promote their own interest at the expense of the dignity and integrity of the profession.
e. Engineers shall accept personal responsibility for their professional activities, provided, however, that engineers may seek indemnification for services arising out of their practice for other than gross negligence, where the engineer's interests cannot otherwise be protected.
6) Representations and Statements
a. Engineers shall be objective and truthful in professional reports, statements, or testimony, and include all relevant and pertinent information therein, bearing the date indicating when it was current.
b. Engineers may only publicly express technical opinions that are founded upon knowledge of the facts and competence in the subject matter.
c. Engineers shall issue no statements, criticisms, or arguments on technical matters that are inspired or paid for by interested parties, unless they have prefaced their comments by explicitly identifying the interested parties on whose behalf they are speaking, and by revealing the existence of any interest the engineers may have in the matters.
7) Fiduciary Duty
a. Engineers shall act for each employer or client as faithful agents.
b. Engineers shall disclose all known or potential conflicts of interest that could influence or appear to influence their judgment or the quality of their services.
c. Engineers shall not accept compensation, financial or otherwise, from more than one party for services on the same project, or for services pertaining to the same project, unless the circumstances are fully disclosed and agreed to by all interested parties.
d. Engineers shall not solicit or accept financial or other valuable consideration, directly or indirectly, from outside agents in connection with the work for which they are responsible.
e. Engineers in public service as members, advisors, or employees of a governmental or quasi-governmental body or department shall not participate in decisions with respect to services solicited or provided by them or their organizations in private or public engineering practice.
f. Engineers shall not solicit or accept a contract from a governmental body on which a principal or officer of their organization serves as a member.
g. Engineers shall not disclose, without consent, confidential information concerning the business affairs or technical processes of any present or former client or employer, or public body on which they serve.
a. Engineers shall not falsify their qualifications or permit misrepresentation of their or their associates' qualifications. They shall not misrepresent or exaggerate their responsibility in or for the subject matter of prior assignments. Brochures or other presentations incident to the solicitation of employment shall not misrepresent pertinent facts concerning employers, employees, associates, joint venturers, or past accomplishments.
b. Engineers shall acknowledge their errors and shall not distort or alter the facts.
c. Engineers shall advise their clients or employers when they believe a project will not be successful.
d. Engineers shall not offer, give, solicit, or receive, either directly or indirectly, any contribution to influence the award of a contract by public authority, or which may be reasonably construed by the public as having the effect or intent of influencing the awarding of a contract. They shall not offer any gift or other valuable consideration in order to secure work. They shall not pay a commission, percentage, or brokerage fee in order to secure work, except to a bona fide employee or bona fide established commercial or marketing agencies retained by them.
a. Engineers shall not accept outside employment to the detriment of their regular work or interest. Before accepting any outside engineering employment, they will notify their employers.
b. Engineers shall not attempt to attract an engineer from another employer by false or misleading pretenses.
c. Engineers shall treat all persons with dignity, respect, fairness and without discrimination.
d. Engineers shall continue their professional development throughout their careers and keep current in their specialty fields by engaging in professional practice, participating in continuing education courses, reading in the technical literature, and attending professional meetings and seminars.
10) Personal Business Interests
a. Consistent with the foregoing, engineers may advertise for recruitment of personnel.
b. Consistent with the foregoing, engineers may prepare articles for the lay or technical press, but such articles shall not imply credit to the author for work performed by others.
c. Engineers shall not, without the consent of all interested parties, promote or arrange for new employment or practice in connection with a specific project for which the engineer has gained particular and specialized knowledge.
d. Engineers shall not, without the consent of all interested parties, participate in or represent an adversary interest in connection with a specific project or proceeding in which the engineer has gained particular specialized knowledge on behalf of a former client or employer.
e. Engineers shall not be influenced in their professional duties by conflicting interests.
f. Engineers shall not accept financial or other considerations, including free engineering designs, from material or equipment suppliers for specifying their product.
g. Engineers shall not accept commissions or allowances, directly or indirectly, from contractors or other parties dealing with clients or employers of the engineer in connection with work for which the engineer is responsible.
h. Engineers shall not attempt to obtain employment or advancement or professional engagements by untruthfully criticizing other engineers, or by other improper or questionable methods.
i. Engineers shall not request, propose, or accept a commission on a contingent basis under circumstances in which their judgment may be compromised.
j. Engineers in salaried positions shall accept part-time engineering work only to the extent consistent with policies of the employer and in accordance with ethical considerations.
k. Engineers shall not, without consent, use equipment, supplies, laboratory, or office facilities of an employer to carry on outside private practice.
l. Engineers shall not attempt to injure, maliciously or falsely, directly or indirectly, the professional reputation, prospects, practice, or employment of other engineers. Engineers who believe others are guilty of unethical or illegal practice shall present such information to the proper authority for action.
11) Work Review
a. Engineers in private practice shall not review the work of another engineer for the same client, except with the knowledge of such engineer, or unless the connection of such engineer with the work has been terminated.
b. Engineers in governmental, industrial, or educational employ are entitled to review and evaluate the work of other engineers when so required by their employment duties.
c. Engineers in sales or industrial employ are entitled to make engineering comparisons of represented products with products of other suppliers.
12) Intellectual Property
a. Engineers shall give credit for engineering work to those to whom credit is due, and will recognize the proprietary interests of others.
b. Engineers shall, whenever possible, name the person or persons who may be individually responsible for designs, inventions, writings, or other accomplishments.
c. Engineers using designs supplied by a client recognize that the designs remain the property of the client and may not be duplicated by the engineer for others without express permission.
d. Engineers, before undertaking work for others in connection with which the engineer may make improvements, plans, designs, inventions, or other records that may justify copyrights or patents, should enter into a positive agreement regarding ownership.
e. Engineers' designs, data, records, and notes referring exclusively to an employer's work are the employer's property. The employer should indemnify the engineer for use of the information for any purpose other than the original purpose.