'Once Upon a Time, in a Land Far, Far Away': Lawyers and Clients Telling Stories About Ethics (and Everything Else)
Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Hastings Women's Law Journal, Vol. 20, 2009
NYLS Clinical Reserch Institute Paper No. 08/09 #13
Framed by an analysis of two particular ethical rules and their application to specific situations, this piece uses the metaphor of storytelling to explore the lawyer's role as an effective and ethical client representative. Drawing from the experiences of two sets of clients and their lawyers, the piece proposes an approach to ethical regulation (as one component of the lawyer-client relationship) that requires the lawyer to engage in a deeply contextual analysis of the specific and particular ethical conflicts presented to him in any particular case; and work with his client to determine how to resolve those conflicts.
The first part of the article introduces the stories of these clients as the lawyers came to know them and as the ethical dilemmas unfolded. This section sets the stage for further analysis both of the Rules of Professional Conduct and of the process lawyers undertake to understand and apply those rules. The second part of the paper shifts the focus to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct themselves and tells the stories again, this time in the context of those rules. This second telling reveals that the rules that make up the system of ethical regulation are interpreted to apply to generic, abstract clients in generic, abstract situations.
Drawing on critical lawyering and narrative theory, the third part of the paper proposes an alternative approach to interpreting and resolving ethical conflicts. The article suggests that the system of regulation should be interpreted to allow room for the attorney to consider and incorporate the client's narrative context. Such an approach places the client in the center of the inquiry and requires the lawyer and client to engage actively in dialogue and problem-solving. It allows the lawyer and client together to arrive at solutions that both respond to the particular client's needs, and attend to the moral and ethical concerns the lawyer and society might have. By using a critically reflective, intentional process of inquiry around ethical (and other) concerns, the lawyer must focus on this particular client in the context of his life and his legal/non-legal needs in this particular situation. Such an inquiry results in a widening of the frame of the client's case such that what appear to be intractable and prominent ethical (and other) issues at the outset actually fade into the background as the lawyer and client together either resolve or preempt them completely.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 35
Keywords: story, narrative, lawyer, client, ethics
Date posted: July 28, 2008 ; Last revised: June 11, 2010