Philosophical Legal Ethics: An Affectionate History

30 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2017 Last revised: 27 Mar 2017

See all articles by David Luban

David Luban

Georgetown University Law Center

W. Bradley Wendel

Cornell University - School of Law

Date Written: February 7, 2017


The modern subject of theoretical legal ethics began in the 1970s. This brief history distinguishes two waves of theoretical writing on legal ethics. The “First Wave” connects the subject to moral philosophy and focuses on conflicts between ordinary morality and lawyers’ role morality, while the “Second Wave” focuses instead on the role legal representation plays in maintaining and fostering a pluralist democracy. We trace the emergence of the First Wave to the larger social movements of the 1960s and 1970s; in the conclusion, we speculate about possible directions for a Third Wave of theoretical legal ethics, based in behavioral ethics, virtue ethics, or fiduciary theory.

Keywords: Legal ethics, professional ethics, role morality, moral agency, liberalism, pluralism

Suggested Citation

Luban, David and Wendel, W. Bradley, Philosophical Legal Ethics: An Affectionate History (February 7, 2017). Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, Vol. 30, 2017; Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 17-12. Available at SSRN:

David Luban

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States

W. Bradley Wendel (Contact Author)

Cornell University - School of Law ( email )

108 Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States
6072559719 (Phone)

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