Teaching Ethics Seriously: Legal Ethics as the Most Important Subject in Law School
22 Pages Posted: 19 May 2010 Last revised: 14 Dec 2012
Date Written: 1998
Despite the strong commitment of leaders of the bar and legal education to improve the ethics of law students and lawyers, legal ethics remains at best a second-class subject in law school. The Article explains “that that the persistent disregard for teaching legal ethics is grounded in three outdated ideological perspectives:” an unproven faith in the moral superiority of lawyers and of legal education, an outmoded pedagogical approach grounded in a late nineteenth century understanding of legal education that rejects teaching values, and a preconceived notion that as adults law students lack the capacity for moral development. Contrary to these biases, current scholarship demonstrates the potential for teaching law students ethics. This can only be done effectively through a first year course that teaches both doctrine and the role of the lawyer in society, and that sends students a message that ethical responsibility is central to thinking and acting like a lawyer. Taking the rhetoric of commitment to ethics seriously would also require both pervasive ethics education and a required upper class course focused on ethical issues related to each student’s preferred practice area.
Keywords: legal ethics, professional responsibility, legal education, pervasive method, ethics curriculum, professional responsibility curriculum, legal profession, lawyers, legal academia, moral development, fact-value distinction, scientism, professionalism
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