Academic journal article Dalhousie Law Journal

Troubling Feelings: Moral Anger and Clinical Legal Education

Academic journal article Dalhousie Law Journal

Troubling Feelings: Moral Anger and Clinical Legal Education

Article excerpt


I. Critical emotion studies

H. Disciplined emotions in legal education and legal practice

1. Dominant approaches: the rational and technocratic lawyer

2. An emerging model: the "emotionally intelligent" lawyer

III. Emotions, moral outrage, and clinical legal education: the existing literature

IV. Critical "readings " of moral anger in clinical legal education

1. Recognizing and affirming moral anger in clinical law contexts

2. Anger, power, and "feeling better"

3. Moving from moral outrage to social justice



Many law students experience strong and sometimes difficult emotions during their time in clinical law programs: sadness at clients' stories of trauma, excitement about a victory in court, or anger at the injustices faced by clients. Clinical experiences, writes Sara Chandler, "expose students to emotional settings not normally experienced in law school; the challenge of handling their own and other people's emotions in difficult and sometimes harrowing situations."1 While various writers have identified clinical legal education's role in addressing issues relating to the emotional dimensions of legal practice,2 and while there is a burgeoning interest in "law and emotions" scholarship,3 the role of emotions in legal education generally, and in clinical legal education in particular, remains under-theorized.4 In this article, I focus on the emotion of "moral anger" or "moral outrage" experienced by lawyers and students in clinical contexts. I consider how educators and students might address manifestations of moral anger in clinical law contexts in ways that ignite a critical and social-justice oriented approach to legal practice.5

Moral anger has been described by Roger Giner-Sorolla as a type of anger that emerges from "judgments that other people are violating justice norms: harming others, violating their rights, or being unfair."6 It is conceived as a reaction to a perceived injustice, drawing on "rules of blame and fairness, taking into account the legitimacy of claims, intentionality of action... and generally working with the concept of rights."7 The concept of moral anger has perhaps most famously been evoked by Aristotle's aphorism that anyone "who does not get angry when there is reason to be angry, or does not get angry in the right way at the right time and with the right people, is a dolt."8 Moral anger is a profoundly political emotion, because, as Michalinos Zembylas points out, it "involves making judgments about what constitutes injustice, what expressions are appropriate, and under what circumstances."9 In the context of clinical and poverty law, the role of moral anger is described as follows by Abbe Smith:

You cannot represent the poor without finding occasion for outrage. The outrages just keep coming. They prevail. They reign. And if you pay attention to the outrageous things that are routinely inflicted on the will be driven to act. You will be inspired.10

Moral anger is a particularly important emotion to consider in the context of legal education because it is so closely connected to notions of justice and injustice, which are central concerns of law. A number of authors have detailed the complicated interconnections between emotions, including moral anger, and legal decision-making.11 This scholarship posits that feelings, including outrage about injustice, can and do shape the actions of lawyers and judges. As Robert Solomon argues, "[t]he idea that justice requires emotional detachment, a kind of purity suited ultimately to angels [and] ideal observers...has blinded us to the fact that justice arises from and requires...feelings."12 However, the fact remains that lawyers and judges rarely acknowledge the role of moral outrage in legal decision-making or legal practice. As I will discuss below, dominant legal discourse constructs emotions as falling utterly outside the boundaries of law and therefore holding scant, if any, relevance to the work of lawyers. …

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