Lawyers' Duty to Do Justice: A New Look at the History of the 1908 Canons

44 Pages Posted: 11 May 2007

See all articles by Susan Carle

Susan Carle

American University Washington College of Law


This article examines a long-forgotten controversy about lawyers' duties to evaluate the justice of their clients' causes in civil cases, which took place among the members of the Committee of the American Bar Association that drafted the 1908 Canons of Professional Responsibility. The article presents an analysis of newly discovered internal working documents of this important, but never before examined, ABA Committee, supplemented with primary historical research into the views and backgrounds of the Committee's members. The article demonstrates how a clash of perspectives among these men -- traceable in part to their backgrounds but also to their unpredictable allegiances to conflicting trends in legal thought at the turn of the century -- prevented the Committee from reaching a satisfactory resolution on the duty-to-do-justice issue. The Committee members instead adopted ineffectual compromise language in the Canons, leaving us with legacy of concealed ambivalence on the question of lawyers' "duty to do justice" in civil cases.

Keywords: legal ethics, legal history, canons of professional responsibility

Suggested Citation

Carle, Susan D., Lawyers' Duty to Do Justice: A New Look at the History of the 1908 Canons. Law & Social Inquiry, Vol. 24, p. 1, 1999. Available at SSRN:

Susan D. Carle (Contact Author)

American University Washington College of Law ( email )

4300 Nebraska Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States
202 274 4188 (Phone)
202 274 4130 (Fax)


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