Aristotle's Ethics and the Virtuous Lawyer: A Study on Legal Ethics and Clinical Legal Education

Lorie Graham

Suffolk University Law School

Journal of the Legal Profession, Vol. 20, p. 5, 1996

This Article addresses the difficult question of what legal educators can do to instill in law students a sense of ethical responsibility toward their clients, the legal system, and society. Aristotle's writings on ethics are especially noteworthy in this regard because of the great many things he had to say about moral education. Indeed, large segments of the Nicomachean Ethics are devoted solely to the issue of character development. In terms of legal ethics, this paper demonstrates two points using the writings of Aristotle. First, that law students need to be taught how to reflect critically on ethical dilemmas from a practical perspective if they are to develop the kind of "excellence" in virtue necessary to recover the "human side" of the profession. Second, that clinical legal education--to the extent that it is truly committed to both learning from experience and promoting the practice of critical reflection--offers a rich opportunity for students to reestablish and redefine the values of the profession. Both of these conclusions assume that not only can students be taught about values, but also that they must if we are to overcome the moral indifference that currently permeates the practice of law. Finally, in terms of ethical legal theory, we will see that what students learn about ethics is intimately related to how we choose to teach them. According to Aristotle, in order to have knowledge of ethical principles, we need to first experience and understand "the particulars" of a situation. This theory of ethics differs from moral relativism, which implies that no rational agreement on ethical principles can be reached. But so too does it differ from traditional Kantian moral philosophy, since it seeks to establish a conception of ethics that is based on reasoned investigation into the complex nature of human experience and practice.

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Date posted: June 7, 2007  

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Graham, Lorie, Aristotle's Ethics and the Virtuous Lawyer: A Study on Legal Ethics and Clinical Legal Education. Journal of the Legal Profession, Vol. 20, p. 5, 1996. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=991661

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Lorie Graham (Contact Author)
Suffolk University Law School ( email )
120 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02108-4977
United States
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