Are Legal Ethics Ethical? A Survey Experiment

40 Pages Posted: 31 Jul 2012 Last revised: 20 Jun 2014

See all articles by Stephen Galoob

Stephen Galoob

University of Tulsa College of Law

Su Li

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law

Date Written: July 31, 2012


Many core questions in legal ethics concern the relationship between ordinary morality and rules of professional conduct that govern lawyers. Do these legal ethics rules diverge from ordinary morality? Is the lawyer's role morally distinctive? Do professional norms establish what the lawyer has most reason to do? Conjectured answers to these questions abound.

In this Article, we use methods from moral psychology and experimental philosophy to provide the first systematic, empirical examination of these questions. Based on results from a survey experiment, we find that legal ethics rules about advocacy and confidentiality diverge from lay moral judgments; that lay judgments do not, in general, attribute distinctive moral significance to the lawyer’s role; and that norms of professional conduct can change (but do not fully determine) lay judgments about the moral status of lawyers’ actions. We conclude by discussing some of the most important theoretical and policy implications of these findings.

Keywords: legal ethics, empirical study, experimental study, professional responsibility, divergence, lawyer exceptionalism, professional norms

Suggested Citation

Galoob, Stephen and Li, Su, Are Legal Ethics Ethical? A Survey Experiment (July 31, 2012). 26 Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics 481 (2013)., University of Tulsa Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2014-2, Available at SSRN: or

Stephen Galoob (Contact Author)

University of Tulsa College of Law ( email )

3120 E. Fourth Place
Tulsa, OK 74104
United States

Su Li

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

Berkeley, CA 94720
United States
8476449763 (Phone)

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