Ethical competence and artificial trust in professional legal education


Lawyers have been referred to as indispensable suppliers of “artificial trust” in the sense that they supply us with enforceable agreements and contracts which serve to formalise social relationships, a necessary function in our increasingly litigious society. Consequently, the way in which law students are prepared for their professional role in discharging their public responsibilities is something in which the whole society has a vested – if not explicit - interest. This paper examines the complex issues raised in the literature on teaching ethics within the context of professional education programs and in particular in legal education programs. Ensuring that law students graduate with the requisite elements of legal professionalism is a complex task. It entails challenging the business model of legal practice and broadening the ethical focus of students beyond an emphasis on mere compliance with a professional code of ethics. Sophisticated ethical competence requires the development of skills in legal analysis and practical decision-making; as well as the development of habits of mind and dispositions which allow practitioners to intelligently address new and challenging problems as they arise. The paper explores legal professionalism via the Aristotelian distinction between the practice of an art and the practice of a craft; the former being an enterprise to which the virtues - in particular interaction with one another - and phronesis are intrinsic, while the latter is often associated with more mechanical activity. The content of the paper is based on work undertaken in the process of a current study of the teaching of legal ethics at the University of Notre Dame Australia.


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The Author:

Dr Sandy Lynch