How Do Lawyers Serve Human Dignity?

26 Pages Posted: 11 Nov 2011 Last revised: 13 Nov 2011

See all articles by Robert K. Vischer

Robert K. Vischer

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

Date Written: 2011


The conception of human dignity that prevails within the legal profession is roughly interchangeable with individual autonomy. That is, lawyers serve the cause of dignity by facilitating the client’s autonomy. In this regard, the legal profession’s dignity discourse lacks the nuance and depth that is found in the discourse occurring in other fields, bioethics in particular. As far as it goes, autonomy is a key component of individual dignity, but autonomy does not exhaust the nature or implications of dignity, particularly the narrow conception of autonomy employed widely within the legal profession. The narrowness results, in significant part, from lawyers’ failure to invest in the dialogue necessary to pursue a fully relational sense of client autonomy, rather than a simplistic autonomy of individual self-interest secured through the maximization of legal rights and privileges. In reality, there are multiple layers of human dignity, not all of which are centered on individual autonomy. Whether or not a more authentically relational conception of autonomy can be reclaimed, it is important to articulate how the human orientation toward relationship can help provide substantive content to, and draw professionally relevant implications from, the elusive concept of human dignity.

Keywords: human dignity, professional responsibility, lawyer ethics, legal ethics, legal profession, lawyers and clients

Suggested Citation

Vischer, Robert K., How Do Lawyers Serve Human Dignity? (2011). University of St. Thomas Law Journal, 2012, U of St. Thomas Legal Studies Research Paper No. 11-35, 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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