Being a Lawyer/Being a Human Being

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This paper raises a single question: what does it mean to ask“Who am I being as a lawyer”? In seeking to explore this question anew, I intend to cover both old and relatively new ground for legal ethics. My underlying concern is that legal ethics scholarship has become mired in the continuing territorial—and largely unresolvable—dispute between aretaic and deontic constructions of ethics. In short, theoretical debate seems to demand that we constantly choose whether the best question to ask is“what, as lawyers, are we morally required to do”, or“what kind of lawyer should we be”? I intend sufficient heresy to provoke a debate on whether either“virtue”or“duty”goes far enough to enable us to say what it ?really? means to be a lawyer. In philosophical terms, my proposition is that ultimately, to know what it is to be a lawyer, we need to think about ontology as well as ethics. In so doing, I am asserting no more than the basic proposition that certain ontological structures cannot be readily disassociated from the moral phenomena we call“ethics”, and that the most foundational of those structures is the notion of“being”. To ask who we are being as lawyers is, I suggest, critical to both the theory and practice of legal ethics.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2002

More about this publication?
  • Legal Ethics is an international and interdisciplinary journal devoted to the field of legal ethics.
    The journal provides an intellectual meeting ground for academic lawyers, practitioners and policy-makers to debate developments shaping the ethics of law and its practice at the micro and macro levels.
    Its focus is broad enough to encompass empirical research on the ethics and conduct of the legal professions and judiciary, studies of legal ethics education and moral development, ethics development in contemporary professional practice, the ethical responsibilities of law schools, professional bodies and government, and jurisprudential or wider philosophical reflections on law as an ethical system and on the moral obligations of individual lawyers.
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