Professional Responsibility for the Age of Obama: Reviewing David Luban, Legal Ethics and Human Dignity

25 Pages Posted: 12 Apr 2010 Last revised: 17 Nov 2010

Date Written: April 7, 2010


The Essay, a review of David Luban’s Legal Ethics and Human Dignity, identifies both Luban and President Barack Obama as politically liberal thinkers who challenge philosophical liberalism’s position that individual freedom is maximized by relegating consideration of moral values to the private sphere. According to the Essay, “Luban’s perspective on legal ethics mirrors Obama’s critique of philosophical liberalism - recognizing that individuals are not atomistic, that substantive moral obligations exist beyond procedural justice, and that lawyers are responsible for the public good in all aspects of their work.”

The Essay describes how the book builds upon Luban’s prior critique of the conception of lawyers as neutral partisans to offer a vision of legal ethics grounded in a relational conception of human dignity. The book, drawing on diverse sources, from Trollope to Fuller to social psychology literature, examines a wide-range of ethical dilemmas, including the Unabomber’s representation, the drafting of the Torture Memos, and the counseling of corporations regarding potential wrongdoing.

While commending Luban’s “formidable and fundamental contribution to rethinking the lawyer’s role,” the Essay suggests that Obama’s perspective could advance Luban’s insights even further. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., an earlier progressive critic of philosophical liberalism, Obama finds moral responsibility and the potential for greatness in every person’s work. With the foundation of Luban’s observation that the conduct of lawyers in everyday practice is fundamental to construction of civil society, the Essay proposes that Obama’s additional insights could offer a way to overcome the professional dissatisfaction resulting from the perception that law practice has become a business. If infused with a sense of accountability and purpose, the practice of law can become newly meaningful and the question whether it is a business or a profession an inconsequential one.

Keywords: legal ethics, legal profession, professionalism, lawyer's role, Barak Obama, Martin Luther King, Jr., David Luban, liberalism, moral counseling, hired gun, lawyers, public good, amoral partisan

Suggested Citation

Pearce, Russell G., Professional Responsibility for the Age of Obama: Reviewing David Luban, Legal Ethics and Human Dignity (April 7, 2010). Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, Vol. 22, p. 1595, 2009, Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1585932, NYLS Clinical Research Institute Paper No. 10/11 # 10, Available at SSRN:

Russell G. Pearce (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

140 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States
212-636-6834 (Phone)
212-636-6899 (Fax)

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics