Learning to Act Like a Lawyer: A Model Code of Professional Responsibility for Law Students
35 Pages Posted: 22 Apr 2011 Last revised: 8 Feb 2016
Law students are the future of the legal profession. How well prepared are they when they leave law school to assume the professional and ethical obligations that they owe themselves, the profession and the public? This question has led to a growing interest in Canada in the teaching of legal ethics. It is also led to a greater emphasis on the development of clinical and experiential learning as exemplified in the scholarship and teaching of Professor Rose Voyvodic. Less attention, however, has been placed on identifying the general ethical responsibilities of law students when not working in a clinic or other legal context. This can be seen in the presence of very few Canadian articles exploring the issue, and more significantly, in the paucity of law school discipline policies or codes of conduct that set out the professional obligations owed by law students. This article develops an idea that Professor Voyvodic and I talked about on a number of occasions. It argues that all law schools should have a code of conduct which is separate and distinct from their general University code and which resembles, with appropriate modifications, the relevant set of rules of professional responsibility law students will be bound by when called to the Bar. A student code of conduct which educates law students about their professional obligations is an important step in deterring such conduct while in law school and preparing students for ethical practice. The idea of a law school code of professional responsibility raises a number of questions. Why is it necessary for law schools to have their own student code of conduct? The article provides a threefold response. First, law students are members of the legal profession and a code of conduct should reflect this. Second, it must be relevant and comprehensive in order to ensure that it can inspire students to be ethical lawyers. And, third, as a practical matter, the last few years have witnessed a number of incidents at law schools that raise serious issues about the professionalism of law students. They include, for example, the UofT marks scandal, the Windsor first year blog and the proliferation of blogs with gratuitous, defamatory and offensive entries. It is not clear that all of this conduct would be caught by University codes of conduct which often limit their reach to on campus behaviour or University sanctioned events. What should a law school code of professional responsibility look like and what ethical responsibilities should it identify? For example, should there be a mandatory pro bono obligation on students or a duty to report misconduct. The last part of the article addresses this question by setting out a model code of professional responsibility for law students.
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