Rhetorical Criticism as Essential Legal Skill: Some Thoughts on Developing Lawyers as 'Public Citizens'
16(1) Communication Law Review 43 (2016).
16 Pages Posted: 10 Jun 2016 Last revised: 17 Jul 2019
Date Written: May 29, 2016
The Model Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers, upon which nearly all fifty state supreme courts base their legal ethics codes, direct lawyers to pursue the public good in their role as "public citizen[s] with special responsibility for justice." Yet, the lawyer as a public citizen is undertheorized in the literature and is not the focus of legal education. And even if this role is deemed important, questions remain of what, exactly, is the lawyer's responsibility as a "public citizen" and what skills a lawyer should possess to fulfill this role.
This essay first describes how the Model Rules of Professional Conduct — the lawyer's ethical rules — rhetorically construct the public citizen role but offer little on how the lawyer should implement this role in her professional life. It then offers how others have attempted to put flesh on the bones of the "public citizen" role so as to have as complete a view as possible of what that role means for lawyers. It explains the generally well-accepted view that law schools have largely failed to teach skills and instill values related to lawyers' roles as public citizens. And, finally, it argues that teaching rhetorical criticism skills in law school can play a central part in giving lawyers the intellectual skills to perform their roles as fiduciaries of the rule of law and participatory democracy and to understand themselves as moral actors in the public sphere.
Keywords: Professional Responsibility, Ethics, Citizen, Rhetoric
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