Teaching Legal Ethics through Role Playing

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Abstract:

A legal ethics course should instil in students a sense of personal responsibility and choice, and not merely inform them about formal rules. A problem-based curriculum, particularly one in which students must commit themselves personally and publicly to choices about how they would respond to conflicting pressures, is most likely to affect students' lives deeply.

This article documents a simulation that the author has used for more than ten years. Law students are put in a role in which they come into possession of documents that would be very damaging to the client whom they are defending but which they arguably have a duty to reveal to the opposing party. Students may select any of several courses of action, including concealing the documents, disclosing them, destroying them, burying them in an “avalanche” of other disclosed material, or asking a court for permission not to disclose. Students must reveal their choices in class. Then a drama unfolds as their choices lead to further difficulties which they must then resolve.

The article includes the results of the author's survey of students in which they compared the effectiveness of learning this material by studying a case to learning it through the experiential problem.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2009

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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