Journal May Help Students Think More About Ethics
The Law Teacher, Volume 3, number 1 (Fall 1995), p. 9.
About the Author
Patrick K. Hetrick is dean and professor of law at Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law at Campbell University. For more information, contact Dean Hetrick at Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law, Campbell University, P.O. Box 158, Buies Creek, NC 27506, (910) 893-1750, FAX (910) 893-8063.
A child asks his father, a merchant, to teach him about "ethics."
"Say a customer comes in and buys a portable tape recorder," the father explains. "The customer pays for it with a crisp, new $50 bill. As he is walking out of the store, I notice there are actually two $50 bills stuck together. 'Ethics' is: Should I share it with my partner?"
This old joke illustrates the illusory meaning of "ethics." Changes in society's concept of morals, combined with several landmark court decisions and heightened competition among lawyers, have helped convert the law in many respects from a profession to a business. These changes have undermined notions of right and wrong, both in law schools and in the profession.
Entering law students are confused about even the most basic moral and ethical values. Perhaps this value-free backdrop is healthy. After all, it challenges law teachers to carefully examine current rules of professional responsibility, define "ethics," and reason through the process with students. In this environment, students have a right to ask: "What does it mean to be an honest lawyer? Why should I aspire to be one? How will I be sure that I am one?"
However, I am amazed at the paucity of guidance for both students and teachers on the subject. It is senseless to point fingers, unless one is located in front of a mirror.
One idea that I am considering is to give a "professional responsibility journal" to each entering law student. Students would carry the journals to all their classes, and would make entries throughout their three years in law school. The ever-present journals would serve as reminders to deans, teachers, students, and visiting lawyers that they always must consider the ethical context of their activities.
I would like comments from others who may have tried this approach. Please contact me if you have suggestions.