Teaching Public Citizen Lawyering from Aspiration to Inspiration
8 Seattle J. for Soc. Just. 661
21 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2018
Date Written: 2010
This essay outlines the ways in which I have tried to convey to students the importance of the Preamble to the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct’s message of lawyer as public citizen. In it I share my view that law schools — not only in traditional professional responsibility courses — should encourage students to grapple with this ethical concern which is not fully captured by the “black letter” rules. For instance, in my prior teaching at the University of Tennessee, I tried to encourage students to consider how they could improve the justice system. I urged them to not only accept individual pro bono cases upon graduation, but to take on problematic systemic issues that might call for nontraditional advocacy efforts in order to be meaningfully addressed. Now as a professor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, I intend to continue with, and build upon, this agenda. However, I hope to more deeply explore what it means for clinicians and their students to be public citizen lawyers in a given community. Proceeding in four parts, this essay begins that exploration. Part I of this essay outlines the Model Rules’ Preamble. Part II looks at ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1 as the single black letter guideline attempting to address a lawyer’s special responsibility for the quality of justice. Unfortunately, this rule tends to privilege traditional pro bono client representation as the preferred route for meeting this responsibility. Yet pro bono publico representation is not required; it is merely aspirational. In Part III, I share some ideas for conveying the importance of the Preamble and public citizen lawyering to law students by offering examples from my teaching at Tennessee — in our clinical program, in a practicum course, and in others places across the curriculum. In Part IV, I conclude by offering some lessons learned, as well as discussing challenges I face while helping to launch a new youth advocacy clinic at Washington University. In the end, my hope is to inspire students to look beyond the rules’ aspirational goals and to serve as public citizen lawyers in law school and beyond.
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