The Legacy of Watergate for Legal Ethics Instruction
11 Pages Posted: 11 May 2012
Date Written: April 2000
Since the Watergate-era accreditation standards require that all law students receive some instruction in legal ethics, the question is what type of instruction is optimal. All would agree that legal ethics instruction must include the substantive law of lawyering, including professional rules, civil malpractice standards, disciplinary procedures, and the common law principles, statutes and regulations that apply to lawyers. In many ways, this substantive component is similar to the substantive content of other courses. But in one important respect, it is different. In other law courses, law students learn about the law that will apply to their clients. In legal ethics courses, law students learn the law that will apply to their own conduct. And many students resist acknowledging that the law will limit their freedom of action.
In light of this dynamic, this symposium article argues that there are two features that can significantly improve legal ethics instruction. First, it is important for ethics instruction to occur in context. Presenting ethics issues without context means engaging in a somewhat sterile philosophical enterprise. Such an enterprise may be of interest to a few philosophically-oriented students who are interested in role-differentiated morality, but leaves most students puzzled or bored. This means that ethics needs to be integrated into the entire law school curriculum. Second, legal ethics instruction needs to assist students in developing the skills necessary to deal with the moral issues that they will face as professionals working on behalf of clients and within organizations. We need to help students develop a vocabulary that will help them analyze the difficult moral choices they will face in practice, and to develop the interpersonal and organizational skills to deal with difficult situations in the workplace.
Keywords: legal ethics instruction, clinical legal education, law school accreditation standards, Watergate
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