"Lawyers" Not "Liars": A Modified Traditionalist Approach to Teaching Legal Ethics
16 Pages Posted: 25 Jun 2012
Date Written: 2007
As attorneys, we undeniably should be faithful confidantes to, and staunch allies for, our clients, but we must also never lose sight of the fact that we are not simply client representatives; we are concurrently officers of the court and keepers of the public trust. Though I strive diligently to make my students aware of the specific ethical duties owed to clients, I always stress even more intently the importance of these latter two components of their professional obligation. They are what set the practice of law apart from other occupations, and they are what should serve to inspire us to conduct ourselves in a manner befitting this grand calling.
The problem, of course, is how does one go about teaching this beyond merely stating it as a lofty truism? Sophisticated law students will quickly be turned off by Pollyanna-toned lectures about some seemingly unachievable legal Utopia. As a result, I think that many legal ethics professors deploy innovative teaching techniques in an effort to place the subject matter in a context that can be taken seriously and perceived as real by students. For me, the most effective pedagogical approach for attaining these objectives has been to teach professional responsibility in a manner comparable to most mainstream substantive law school courses, with a few calculated deviations.
I endeavor to convey the critical nuts and bolts of the subject (the rules and the law) to students by way of the familiar case method, combined with Socratic dialogue. Though this is anything but pioneering, I suspect that I am likely among a minority of legal ethics professors who make extensive use of this teaching style. Part I of this Article explains the reasons for my choice, certain aspects of my specific case method, and the perceived benefits that flow from this manner of instruction. While I fully believe that my traditional law school modus operandi is an efficient and effective way for me to communicate the substance of professional responsibility, the calculated deviations that I employ are what I consider most essential in enabling me to reach my students and memorably impress upon them the difficulties and virtues of being a lawyer.
Part II reveals and elaborates upon the special nuances that I inject into the course as a change of pace and a complement to my rather straightforward study of ethics rules and cases. "Lawyers" and "liars" may sound alike, but it is my hope that no one who encounters my former students will ever confuse the two.
Keywords: legal education, law school, ethics, socratic method, ethical duties, professional responsibility, teaching
JEL Classification: K19
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation