Vol 12, Issue 11
Last week we were informed that, as a result of the recent curriculum review undertaken by MLS faculty members, Dispute Resolution and Legal Ethics would no longer be taught separately. A new subject would be taught instead: ‘Disputes and Ethics’; an amalgam of the two courses.
One issue that immediately came to mind was that, given the lack of crossover between the two subjects, Disputes and Ethics are an awkward combination.
More importantly however, I believe this curriculum change is emblematic of a far more significant issue: MLS does not encourage critical thought outside of jurisprudence. It is quite possible that MLS is not unique on this front, and that the failure to develop critical thought is an issue across contemporary law schools. However I can only comment on what I have seen at MLS.
What does this curriculum change have to do with critical thought? I believe Legal Ethics, as a standalone subject, is of great importance in prompting law students (future lawyers) to critique their personal ethics and professional intentions, and to question whether becoming a lawyer is right for them, given the stringent ethical requirements. Perhaps most importantly, Legal Ethics is an opportunity to inculcate an understanding of the solemnity and magnitude of becoming a member of the legal profession; of committing oneself to become an officer of the court.
The following example illustrates why these discussions are so critical. I remember my first LMR class well. We went around the room, each student expressing her motivations for studying law. Most of the students (predictably), myself included, espoused some variant of a wish to save the world though practising law. Most students in the class provided genuine and considered reasons. Skip ahead two years, to my first class of Legal Ethics. In an attempt to demonstrate the varied reasons that people study law, our teacher asked us to state our career goal in law, along with an explanation. The result was literally the inverse of what I had seen in LMR. 90% of the students responded with “commercial law”, explaining that they “enjoy problem solving”. Fair enough, but teachers, engineers, nurses and construction managers probably also enjoy problem solving. Also, it’s pretty unlikely that most of the students in the class had independently decided on this career path because they all generally “enjoy problem solving”.
This is not a diatribe against commercial lawyers – I too plan on practising commercial law. But whether we plan to become a commercial lawyer, a criminal lawyer, a legal academic or something completely unrelated, we must be able to make own our decisions. We should be able to explain why our choice is meaningful or important, what we want to get out of it, and how it fits into our ethical code. Otherwise, we risk creating lawyers who are not thinking, are ethically apathetic and do not respect the legal profession as a commitment to honour and serve something bigger than ourselves.
It seems that something occurred between LMR and Legal Ethics to dissuade this kind of critical introspection. Perhaps not enough of an effort is made throughout the course of the JD to ensure students are thinking critically about their decisions. Perhaps the curricula of Legal Theory and Legal Ethics need to be updated and students made aware of their significance. Nonetheless, I believe that Legal Ethics can, and should, play a role in combatting this reluctance to critically assess our careers and ethics.
I urge the MLS faculty members to reconsider the amalgamation of Legal Ethics and Dispute Resolution. I also urge law students to do a lot of thinking about why you are doing what you are doing. Not only might this result in more meaningful career paths for individuals, but it will also create more ethical, aware and committed lawyers.
This is the work of a JD student
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