A Problem of Role Definition
New York University Law School
For too long, legal ethics have been in the backwater of American legal education. While law schools expanded their course offerings in response to the realities of business regulation, the civil rights movement, international economics, the war on poverty, environmental interests, and the urban crisis, it took the shock of Watergate to force lawyers — and the law schools that spawn them — to question whether lawyers were being properly trained in the ethics of their profession.
Many in the profession have argued rather defensively that Watergate was an aberration, that the former president's men were not acting in their professional capacities, that no amount of ethical training will cure the inclinations of thieves and liars, and that it was the legal system that finally drove Richard Nixon from office.
All this is true. But I believe that Watergate did highlight a critical deficiency in legal training: the failure to define a lawyer's role in the various situations in which he may find himself. Certainly lawyers cannot brag about the multi-optioned career that legal training provides and then claim no responsibility for their conduct when they exercise one of these options, such as being an advisor to a high government official.
The teaching of legal ethics means teaching role-definition. When viewed in these terms, the subject becomes quite teachable. It is true that teachers cannot, in the course of legal training, teach a liar to tell the truth. In that sense the cynics are correct when they argue that, if a