Thursday, April 07, 2005

Legal Ethics Should Be Abolished or Reformed (the class, I mean)

The ABA's professional responsibility requirement is really irking me.

All ABA accredited law schools make students take a class in professional responsibility before graduation. And most states require that you take the MPRE. But for a class that they think is so important, law schools don't do a great job of marketing legal ethics to students. They import visiting professors to teach it, since regular faculty usually don't want to. Sometimes you can fulfill it by taking a class that's more integrated with other substantive material, but otherwise you are stuck in the gut section reading either dry cases about lawyers acting like scumbags or infuriating ones about good lawyers doing the right thing and getting smacked down because the Rules are counterintuitive and demand bizarre and disproportionate responses from counsel to situations of conflict.

You'd think this class would be an ideal first year course: right when everyone is still eager and excited about the law, plop this weird blend of formalistic rules and half-assed philosophizing on their plates and let them tear into it. It would be a great escape from the conventional parts of the 1L curriculum that aim to make you think like a lawyer in the analytic sense, but it would force you to learn early on to think like a lawyer in an ethical sense. And it would be useful for students to get a handle on this material before their first stint of legal employment as well. Maybe it could be integrated into the "First Year Lawyering" (what they call legal writing here); after all, lawyering is making decisions and relating to clients, not just pounding out memos.

But of course it's not like that, and we all put it off until our 3L year, after most of us have worked a couple of legal jobs and maybe even passed the MPRE (which makes it the most pointless class of what can be conceived of as a pointless year--if the state bar thinks I am ethical enough, what's the point of this class? and if merely passing the test isn't good enough, is the test really hard enough? should you be able to pass the MPRE with only an afternoon review session from BarBri and a few evenings with a prep book?). We sit in class, or not; many 3Ls don't show. The material is relevant, and important, and could be engaging, if anyone, student or faculty, cared enough to make it so. My visiting prof tries hard, but she's got to fight 3L apathy and an institutional bias against the course. She had us watch the premiere of L.A. Law to talk about. I can't decide if I think spending my last few weeks of law school talking about 1980s TV shows is maddening or strangely appropriate. After all, I started law school by watching The Verdict with my section. My section advisor lauded the conduct of the lawyer in pressing a test case despite the wishes of his clients and I vociferously disagreed. Now we're going to discuss whether casting aspersions on a rape victim's character is ethical and I will probably sit in the back and not say anything. Is this really how it should be?
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