Are Legal Ethics Ethical? A Survey Experiment
40 Pages Posted: 31 Jul 2012 Last revised: 20 Jun 2014
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
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