The Problem of Disagreement in Legal Ethics Theory

60 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2012

See all articles by Alice Woolley

Alice Woolley

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: September 18, 2012


Legal ethics theories give competing and exclusive accounts of the ethical foundations of the lawyer’s role. They disagree about the relationship between morality and law, about the content of the lawyer’s central ethical duties and about how specific ethical problems should be resolved. Each theoretical account asserts that the others are mistaken in some fundamental way. Yet all legal ethics theories are theories of action; legal ethics theorists do not seek merely to enlighten, they also seek to influence how lawyers and the legal profession respond to ethical issues. This creates a problem of disagreement: the problem created by the divergent but exclusive claims made by different ethical theories at the point when those theories are to be translated into action. This paper considers how, given the problem of disagreement, legal ethics theories can have any impact on individual ethical decision-making or public policy. Specifically, it considers how theories can have any impact given a) that they fundamentally disagree; and b) what experimental psychology tells us about how people make ethical decisions in fact, and the nature of lawyer regulation.

Keywords: Lawyers Ethics, Legal Theory, Law and Psychology

Suggested Citation

Woolley, Alice, The Problem of Disagreement in Legal Ethics Theory (September 18, 2012). Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

Alice Woolley (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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