Context, Meaning and Morality in the Life of the Lawyer

(2014) 17 (1) Legal Ethics 1

33 Pages Posted: 21 Feb 2014 Last revised: 1 Jul 2014

See all articles by Alice Woolley

Alice Woolley

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: February 18, 2014


Legal ethics theory focuses on the moral problem of lawyers pursuing morally suspect (but lawful) ends and using morally suspect (but lawful) means. It considers possible justifications for lawyers’ conduct arising from moral or political philosophy, and how those justifications may require shifts in the lawyer’s role. This paper argues that legal ethics theory needs to expand its focus to consider other ethical aspects of the lawyer’s role and, in particular, the extent to which being a lawyer can complicate, or contribute to, the accomplishment of a meaningful life. Meaning — defined by Susan Wolf as ‘loving something (or a number of things) worthy of love, and being able to engage with it (or them) in a positive way’ — will be affected in positive and negative ways by the moral dimensions of the lawyer’s role, but also by broader aspects of legal practice. The paper further argues that legal ethics theory needs to be more sensitive to contextual variations in legal practice. The ethical challenges and opportunities of legal practice, both its meaning and its morality, are contextually specific in ways legal ethics theory has not sufficiently accounted for. The paper sets out how meaning and context can be included in analysis of the ethics of a lawyer’s life.

Keywords: Legal Ethics, Morality, Legal Philosophy

Suggested Citation

Woolley, Alice, Context, Meaning and Morality in the Life of the Lawyer (February 18, 2014). (2014) 17 (1) Legal Ethics 1 . Available at SSRN:

Alice Woolley (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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