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Teaching Law Students About Ethics

Publication Date: 
September 01, 2009
Chicago Lawyer
John Flynn Rooney

Professor Lawrence Marshall, director of Stanford's legal clinics and an expert in ethics and professional responsibility, comments on the importance of integrating ethics into doctrinal courses in law school. Professor Deborah Rhode is also mentioned in this article for her work in pioneering the pervasive teaching method.

While teaching a professional responsibility course at DePaul University College of Law, Howard M. Rubin uses a recent case to demonstrate tricky ethical dilemmas. The case involves Alton Logan, who was released from prison in 2008, after more than 25 years. Two former Cook County assistant public defenders kept silent for 26 years about Logan's wrongful conviction in a murder case to protect the confidences of their client. "It really gets them to focus on things thinking as a lawyer, not as members of the public," said Rubin, who also serves as DePaul's associate dean for lawyering skills. The students' immediate reaction is that they would never keep such a secret, Rubin said.


"I think there is a movement toward change, toward, most importantly, some increased integration," said Lawrence C. Marshall, a professor at Stanford Law School. Marshall added, however, that ethics courses at some law schools count for two credit hours and are taught by adjunct professors, which can signal to students that the class is less significant than the rest of the course work. "It's problematic because, more than any other subject that law students study, the law of professional responsibility and the ethical/ moral principles of the lawyers role will affect students as lawyers on a daily basis," Marshall said. "To me, it's always just been so strange that we'll spend weeks on some doctrine of tort law that students likely will never see, yet we'll give short shrift to critical rules of the profession that will pervade their professional careers," he said. Marshall believes that, for some reason, legal ethics tends to be a subject that isn't necessarily the main scholarship area of those who teach that subject. "At some level it has developed a reputation as a more pedestrian, practical-oriented course," Marshall said.


... A third version is the so-called pervasive method pioneered by Deborah L. Rhode at Stanford University School of Law and David J. Luban with the Georgetown University Law Center in which legal ethics "pervade" the law school's curriculum, ...