A Primer on Professionalism for Doctrinal Professors

Legal education reform advocates agree that law schools should integrate professionalism preparation throughout the curriculum. Ultimately, it falls to individual professors to decide how to incorporate professionalism issues into each course. This can be an especially difficult task for professors teaching traditional doctrinal classes. The law — and not the practice of law — is the focus of most doctrinal casebooks. Law students typically do not act in role as lawyers in these classes, so they are not compelled to resolve professional dilemmas in class, as students are in a clinic or simulation-based course. As a result, it takes some additional preparation and thought to introduce professionalism issues into these courses. Some professors may resist making this change — not knowing which aspect or aspects of professionalism should be the focus, fearing that time spent on professionalism will detract from the real subject matter of the class, or believing professionalism is adequately covered elsewhere in the curriculum.
My article A Primer on Professionalism for Doctrinal Professors considers how and why doctrinal professors should address the challenge of integrating professionalism into the classroom. The article was recently published in the Tennessee Law Review and is available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2449313.
Part I of the article briefly discusses the multitude of meanings ascribed to attorney professionalism and argues that the lack of a clear, concise, and shared definition is a substantial barrier to effectively incorporating professionalism into the law school curriculum. Next, Part II provides a more coherent, streamlined definition of attorney professionalism. This part also identifies and describes three primary aspects of lawyer professionalism: fulfilling duties to clients, satisfying duties to the bar, and possessing core personal values essential to being a good lawyer. This simplified conception of professionalism should begin to address the concerns of professors who do not know where to begin to incorporate professionalism into their classes. It is also intended to persuade skeptics that professionalism is something they can and should teach as part of their doctrinal classes.
Thereafter, Part III provides guidance for developing course outcomes that connect course subject matter and professionalism. Questions prompt doctrinal professors to look for the natural connections between their course subject matter and issues of professionalism. Then, Part IV considers various methods doctrinal professors can use to introduce professionalism topics into their courses. Integrating professionalism into the classroom does not require professors to abandon their casebooks; using case law can be an effective method. This part also considers other teaching methods and materials for combining doctrine, skills, and professionalism. Finally, Part V concludes with thoughts on how students benefit when professors make the effort to incorporate professionalism into every law school classroom.

2 Responses

  1. I just read Professor Schaeffer’s article. It does an excellent job of addressing the importance of connecting the Model Rules of Professional Conduct to practice settings in doctrinal courses. That should have the effect of demonstrating to students that the Rules are not just a set of standards they have to learn and refer to once in awhile. Anyone who practiced for any period of time knows that most lawyers, even at the best firms, are often woefully unfamiliar with the Model Rules. That’s not something to brag about. The Model Rules, as Professor Schaeffer shows, arise regularly in practice. If a lawyer really wants to practice law well, she or he will know the Rules. I also liked how Professor Schaeffer recognized practical matters such as the expense that results from excessive (unnecessary) discovery. That is often not something sanctioned, and rarely a subject of Bar disciplined. However, seeing a lawyer who shows restraint (so as not to cost her client unnecessary expense or to abuse the system) separates those who truly seek to balance their duties in the legal system (to the client, to the system, and even under Rule 3.4 in fairness to opposing counsel).

    The overall point of the article is what professors in doctrinal courses ought to consider. Professional Responsibility should not be the only course in law school in which students deal with the Model Rules. Indeed, if they see professor referring to them more frequently than is likely the case at present, the likely message they’ll get is to pay attention to and know the Rules.

    Professor Ben Madison

  2. The early consideration of when and how to teach ethics and professionalism was the subject of a conference in 1977 at the University of Detroit College of Law.. It led to the development of stand alone Ethics courses in law schools.

    I have been on the side of those who believe professionalism should taught into every class. My opportunity to assist this approach came in the form of two real estate casebooks which help faculty teach from the transactional perspective. “Commercial Leasing A Transactional Primer” (with Daniel Bogart, Jr.) has a chapter devoted to professionalism in transactional negotiations. ” Modern Real Estate Finance & Development a Transactional Approach” (with Steve Bender, Michael Madison and Robert Zinman) incorporates the topic in nearly every chapter in the “Ethical Lawyer” section.

    Incorporating professionalism into every course is simply a part of educating our students to be ready for the practice of law. Thanks to Paul Schaefer for suggesting how to do it in the typical doctrinal/litigation oriented courses !

    Personally, I adopt the transactional approach (and teach professionalism) even in my first year Contracts course.

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