After the birth of my son, a local photographer offered my new family a free sitting at his studio. He said the package he offered, which also included several prints, was valued at around $850. Although the photographer presented the offer outside of my work setting, he knew I was the editor of a magazine and could potentially offer him photography gigs in the future. He didn’t say this was his intention–and it may not have been. But I didn’t know. And as tempting as the offer was, I had to decline.

As a magazine editor, I sometimes face these types of ethical dilemmas. And it’s my job to know the difference between someone offering a free product or service for legitimate editorial purposes and someone expecting something in return. Professionals in key decision-making positions will often find themselves confronted with ethical dilemmas.

As in-house counsel, you’re no stranger to putting forth an effort to maintain a strong ethical backbone for your legal department and your company. Following the corporate corruption that emerged earlier in this decade, ethics took center stage for the corporate legal community, and the economic downturn has ensured an encore.

InsideCounsel has taken several steps in response to the increasing interest in corporate legal ethics. Earlier this year, we launched Ethical Insights, a new column–currently written by Brian Martin, general counsel of KLA-Tencor–that focuses on how GCs can build and maintain high ethical standards for their legal departments.

We also have dedicated this issue’s cover story to the topic. In “Tough Calls,” we asked ethics experts and in-house counsel to take us through several scenarios in which in-house counsel face difficult ethical decisions. We cover four scenarios: disclosure, financial reporting, internal investigations and withdrawal (leaving your job when you believe your company has conducted itself unethically). In each situation, the general counsel must make a subjective, often difficult, decision.

As the economy continues to struggle and corporate corruption remains a reality, maintaining strong ethics will be a priority for in-house counsel. And regardless of economic or corporate trends, ethics will always be the hallmark of an upstanding legal department.