Cornell Law Review Volume 93 Issue 6

Legal Ethics as “Political Moralism” or the Morality of Politics

As a law student with some background in moral philosophy and applied ethics, naturally I was drawn to thinking about the big ethical questions facing lawyers. “Read Lawyers and Justice, by David Luban,” my legal ethics seminar professor suggested. I did, and I was immediately hooked. Lawyers and Justice was a powerfully argued, elegant, and persuasive refutation of the view that the obligation of zealous client representation alone exhausts a lawyer’s moral obligations. Professor Luban insisted that lawyers remain moral agents, fully subject to the requirements of ordinary morality, even when acting in a professional role. If there is no moral justification for action taken in a professional capacity, such as withholding information that could save a person’s life if disclosed, then the lawyer must accept the criticism that would be leveled against a similarly situated nonprofessional. When I entered law teaching several years later, I decided that legal ethics was my scholarly calling, but Professor Luban’s work created a problem for me: What was left to say?


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