Fischer on Teaching Legal Ethics

At Legal Ethics Forum, Prof. James Fischer of Southwestern speculates why students don’t respect their Legal Ethics course. He rejects the traditional rationales such as “(1) students lack real world experience; (2) the course is just a bunch of rules that lack a unifying theme; (3) course is warmed over moral pabulum.” Instead, he believes that it’s because the course, unlike others in law school, requires students to engage in personal introspection.

When I was in law school, Professional Responsibility was the only mandatory course we had to take after first year, so we didn’t like being forced to take the course. (Now, the ABA mandates so many more courses post-first year, so the Professional Responsibility course no longer stands alone). Further, my particular section had a fairly high irrelevancy factor—I intended to be a Silicon Valley transactions lawyer, but my professor (former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso) taught the course from the perspective of what a personal injury litigator in Imperial Valley (a very rural and poor community) would need to know.

At Marquette, I too have found that many students resist personal introspection, despite my exhortations that personal introspection is critical to understanding the course. However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised that students take the course seriously, sometimes get downright enthusiastic about the course material, and usually have one or more “a-ha” moments during the semester. I know better than to think that the course is a student favorite, but now I have much more hope that students will ultimately see the merits of the course than when I first started teaching it.