Professionalizing Moral Engagement

20 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2009

See all articles by Robert K. Vischer

Robert K. Vischer

University of St. Thomas, St. Paul/Minneapolis, MN - School of Law


This essay is an invited response to Michael Hatfield, who argues that the legal profession might avoid creating lawyers willing to “sign off on torture if their professional education did not begin with dis-integrating the skills for intellectual agility from the skills for moral resolution.” I contend that we do not need lawyers to reach “moral resolution," for it is not the lawyer’s job to resolve the moral questions that clients face. We do need lawyers, on the other hand, to ensure that clients are aware of the moral questions that are often embedded in the legal questions raised by the representation. Lawyers’ recurrent failure to raise moral questions infringes on client autonomy by precluding the client’s ability to fully consider what is at stake in the case. Our approach to professional formation ¾ both during and after law school ¾ almost totally ignores this “moral due diligence” dimension of the attorney-client relationship. Especially in cases where the governing law is indeterminate, lawyers need to be able to engage their clients in a moral dialogue, which requires both familiarity with, and sensitivity to, moral reasoning. But lawyers’ capabilities in this regard should not be deployed in order to resolve the moral questions; rather, they should be deployed in order to assist the client in resolving the moral questions. The essay lays out some possible avenues by which legal education can support the project of professionalizing moral engagement.

Keywords: Professional responsibility, legal ethics, legal education, law and morality, moral engagement, legal profession, lawyers and clients

Suggested Citation

Vischer, Robert K., Professionalizing Moral Engagement. Northwestern University Law Review Colloquy, 2009; U of St. Thomas Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09-16. Available at SSRN:

Robert K. Vischer (Contact Author)

University of St. Thomas, St. Paul/Minneapolis, MN - School of Law ( email )

MSL 400, 1000 La Salle Avenue
Minneapolis, MN Minnesota 55403-2005
United States
651-962-4838 (Phone)

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