The Imposition of Social Justice Morality in Legal Education

4 Ind. J.L. & Soc. Equality 57 (2016)

19 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2016

See all articles by Julie Lawton

Julie Lawton

DePaul University - College of Law

Date Written: April 4, 2016


There exists an undeniable need for social justice in this country. Our American society, in all its greatness, is still neither equitable nor just. It restricts access to justice based on income and too often denies access to those most in need. The question of how to manage this need is not novel: for years, the legal profession has struggled with whether it has a responsibility to address it and, if so, how. The profession has considered mandating attorney pro bono service and fees to support legal services providers, as well as lobbying federal and state governments to increase public funding for access to these services. More recently, advocates have called for mandatory pro bono and public interest service in law schools. New York, leading the charge, is now the first state to mandate pro bono service as a prerequisite for acceptance to the bar.

Law schools, in reflecting the social justice morality of its faculty and leaders, have increased their efforts to encourage students to engage in social justice. The vast majority of in-house, live-client experiential learning opportunities require law students to provide pro bono legal services for low- to moderate-income individuals. Law schools provide funding at a far greater rate to pre- and post-graduate students working in public interest than to those students working in business disciplines. In many ways, law schools attempt to convince law students of the validity of working in the public interest for social justice.

While recognizing the need for improving access to justice, we must also recognize that the choice to support social justice is a value judgment, reflecting the morality of those performing the work. This choice is particularly important in the context of legal education, where our students likely (and rightly) have alternative views of morality than those of us who have accepted the responsibility of educating them. Law students should not be required to adhere to the social justice morality of law faculty and law school administrators any more than law faculty should be required to adhere to the social justice morality of law school and university administrations. Law schools, through their financial support of public interest students and programs, clinical programs, and mandatory pro bono requirements, attempt to inculcate law students with a responsibility of social justice that reflects the morality of the faculty and administration. While this Article does not call for law schools to cease supporting these important social justice programs, this Article does encourage law faculty to recognize law schools’ attempts to impose a chosen morality upon law students and for law schools to have open conversations with students about whether social justice in law school is also a reflection of the students’ chosen morality. This Article also encourages law schools to consider whether students who are not interested in engaging in social justice should receive the same financial support and experiential learning opportunities as those interested in social justice. The primary goal of a legal education should be to educate students through exposure to, and analysis of, competing ideas. However, in doing so, legal educators should be cautious of trying to impose their own morality upon students.

Keywords: social justice, social justice morality, legal education, law school, access to justice

Suggested Citation

Lawton, Julie, The Imposition of Social Justice Morality in Legal Education (April 4, 2016). 4 Ind. J.L. & Soc. Equality 57 (2016), Available at SSRN:

Julie Lawton (Contact Author)

DePaul University - College of Law ( email )

25 E. Jackson Blvd.
Chicago, IL Cook County 60604-2287
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics