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When To Learn Ethics

Submitted by Nigel Duncan on Wed, 04-27-2011
Long title
When and how should legal ethics be learned?
Duncan, Nigel J.
Cunningham, Clark D.
King, Tony
Maharg, Paul
Author(s)' contact information
Georgia State University
Chair, The Law Society's Education & Training Committee
Northumbria University
City University, London
Conference title
Learning in Law Annual Conference
Conference location
University of Warwick
United Kingdom
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In March 2009 The Law Society of England and Wales released the long-awaited report by Kim Economides and Justine Rogers on “Preparatory Ethics Training for Future Solicitors.” The report recommended that The Law Society take the lead in initiating “tripartite discussion” among The Law Society, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, and representatives of the legal academic community to reach consensus on the goal of making “awareness of and commitment to legal values and the moral context of law mandatory in undergraduate degrees” and specifying “outcomes” of such education. The report further recommended that if such discussions fail to reach consensus the Solicitors Regulation Authority should “unilaterally require anyone seeking to proceed to the vocational stage of qualification as a solicitor [to] demonstrate knowledge, understanding and commitment to the core values enunciated in Rule One of the Solicitors Code of Conduct.” Other recommendations included (a) roundtable discussions between undergraduate law teachers and vocational course providers to discuss optimal division of learning outcomes, (b) establishment of a national centre for ethical instruction and assessment for training and regulating instructors, (c) establishment of rigorous outcomes for ethical instruction in the training contract including a modification in the TC appraisal form to include a professional responsibility section and (d) regular discussion groups at conferences and through other networks to encourage teachers, practitioners and students to discuss ethical dilemmas and share illustrative stories.
This session will begin with a discussion of efforts to date to explore implementation of the recommendations of the Economides/Rogers report. The presenters will seek status reports from representatives of The Law Society and Solicitors Regulation Authority. The report will then be placed in the context of concurrent actions in other jurisdictions either to make ethics instruction mandatory (e.g. Canada, Scotland) or, where already mandatory, to expand the scope of such instruction (e.g. Australia and USA). The session will conclude by exploring whether – and when – a special-purpose conference on this topic would be appropriate.
Contribution to Scholarship of Teaching & Learning Law:
In addition to the primary topic of the session – whether instruction in legal ethics and professional responsibility should be a required component of undergraduate legal education, the discussion in the session will address a number of important general issues including (1) the appropriate division of responsibility between undergraduate and vocational education in preparing ethical practitioners, (2) the role of professional associations and government regulatory bodies in influencing the content of university-based education, and (3) the development of new methods of assessment suitable for modes of education beyond conventional classroom instruction.

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