Law Students Offer Great Perspectives on Issues in Legal Profession

I have been privileged to teach legal ethics at the University of Ottawa and before that at Osgoode Hall and U of T. I love teaching legal ethics because students have fresh and valuable perspectives on so many important issues in the legal profession. Legal ethics is a branch of “professional ethics”, special ethical rules that apply to members of a profession. What we think it means to be “a good lawyer” , “a good soldier” or “a good doctor” may differ from society’s general understanding of what it means to be “a good citizen”. In legal ethics we struggle with these issues as we analyze and debate topics like choice of client, access to justice, confidentiality, conflicts of interest, being a criminal defence lawyer, being a government lawyer, etc.

I have found that our students have great perspectives on these issues because they were so recently members of that ridiculous term that only lawyers use: “lay people”. While law school is certainly a socialization process for the legal profession, law students have not been fully socialized. Many remain (and hopefully will remain) strongly idealistic. They remember their previous professions or occupations or status as simply ordinary non-legal folk and they are less willing to accept the “that’s the way it is” explanation for ethical rules in our profession. Students challenge us in the academy to be better and they also challenge us in the legal profession to do better. Some students do great work and fortunately there is recognition for outstanding legal writing by prizes such as the JSD Tory Prize in Legal Writing awarded at Canadian law schools and the recently established Reuter Scargall Bennett LLP Essay Prize in Legal Ethics awarded by the Chief Justice of Ontario’s Advisory Committee on Professionalism. Some of these papers are published and their ideas can be shared with the legal community.

But law students produce great writing every day that never sees the light of day. Such writing may be pleasurable for law teachers to read and the grade awarded may bring a smile to the law student’s face, but it is rarely shared with others. This year students in my first year and my upper level Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility courses at the University of Ottawa inspired me to reach out to editor Simon Fodden and ask him if he would be interested in publishing some of their work on this blawg. To Simon’s great credit, he quickly accepted. I hope you will find the students’ blogs this week interesting and will offer your comments on them. If you don’t like one of the blogs, you can always blame the teacher…

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