Teaching Legal Ethics to First Year Law Students Diana Henriss-Anderssen

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Teaching Legal Ethics to First Year Law Students

Diana Henriss-Anderssen


This paper will discuss incorporating the teaching of legal ethics into the first year undergraduate program of the law degree. Teaching legal ethics in law schools is a subject that has generated renewed interest in recent years. In 2000, the Council of Australian Law Deans1 endorsed the recommendation of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC),2 that the development of a deep appreciation of ethical standards and professional responsibility be one of the main aims of university legal education in Australia.3 There is little discussion by the ALRC in its report as to what is meant by ethical standards, and how this “deep appreciation of ethical standards and professional responsibility” should be taught.

The purpose of this paper is to explore the meaning of ethical standards and professional responsibility, and how this can be taught to develop the students’ “deep appreciation”. This paper will consider particularly how ethics teaching can be incorporated into the first year program. The design of the James Cook University subject LA 1006 Legal Studies will be used as a case study.

In particular, the following issues will be addressed. Firstly, what is legal ethics? The meaning of ethics in the legal context will be explored, and the traditional notion of legal ethics (as proscriptive rules of behaviour) compared to broader concepts of legal ethics. A broad definition of legal ethics will be adopted. The paper will then address the justification for teaching legal ethics at an undergraduate level. This will entail a review of the arguments for incorporating the teaching of legal ethics into the undergraduate program. The third issue relates to the objectives of ethics teaching. What learning outcomes do we desire for our students? A set of objectives for teaching legal ethics will be suggested. Fourthly, the paper will examine the question of how ethics teaching should be incorporated into the undergraduate degree course. It is suggested that the teaching of legal ethics should be pervasive, and integrated into substantive law subjects and skills subjects (such as the mooting program) throughout the degree structure. Hence the need to develop an introduction to ethical issues at the first year level, so that this can be built upon in later year subjects. Finally, what teaching strategies (including assessment) are best employed to achieve these objectives? The design of teaching strategies and assessment for the first year subject will be discussed.

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