While much has been written about “the case method, ” most of it is about the teaching of law or business. 1 Little has been written about teaching practical (professional or applied) ethics. Of that little, most has been rather theoretical-concerned, for example, with comparing case-based with theory-based teaching. 2 The instructor who looks for guidance on how to develop an ethics case, how to use one in class, or how to write or grade a homework assignment or exam question involving such a case will find only a few scattered remarks. 3 The instructor who would like to use a few ethics cases in a course to which “the case method” is foreign will find even less. 4 The purpose of this chapter is to begin to fill that gap in the literature.
For lawyers, a “case” is something quite specific, a legally significant event with a client. Where the event has not actually occurred (or the client has not yet sought a lawyer), the case is only “hypothetical.” Sometimes lawyers will even contrast cases (“real cases”) with hypothetical cases, for example: “That's not a case, that's only a hypothetical.”
While the ordinary lawyer has always organized his life around (real) cases, the first law school to adopt something called “the case method” (Harvard) did not do so until the 1870s. The cases of that method were only a small part of what lawyers call “cases.” The law school's cases were published decisions of an appellate court, the Olympus few legal cases reach (and most clients are happy to avoid). Published legal decisions contain a digest of the facts of the case, the court's ruling with supporting argument (“the opinion of