Moral Development Is a Process--And Should Be Part of the Law School Experience

The two most influential studies in recent memory--Carnegie's Educating Lawyers and the Clinical Legal Education Association's Best Practices for Legal Education (both published in 2007)--maintain that law schools are not addressing head on law students' development of a moral and professional identity.  Although these studies' other major recommendation--to improve teaching of practice skills--has met with relative favor, the challenge to help law students prepare to develop a better sense of their values, self, and moral compass has been less well received.

Part of the reluctance of law schools to engage this challenge has to do, first, with some misconceptions and, second, with the unfamiliarity of teaching students in what educators commonly refer to as "the affective domain."  The misconceptions I have run into are these.  First, some believe that law students' values are formed by the time they reach law school.  IQ, personality types, etc. may be fixed by the early twenties.  However, Lawrence Kohlberg, the father of modern concepts of the stages of moral development, found that one's moral development continued well into adulthoold.  Second, a misconception I have heard is that law professors should not engage in such questions because they will be incculcating their values into students.   I'm sorry, but I can only say this is an excuse to avoid dealing with the challenge.  Why?  Well, first of all, our profession already includes values in its Code of Professional Responsibility.  Doesn't the Model Rule on Candor, on being fair to one's opposing counsel and opponent, and on being truthful to third parties adopt a value of honesty?  Second, if one accepted the I-should-not-engage-in-ethical-questions-because-it-inculcates-students-with-my-values argument, how then do philosophy, social work, and other graduate programs engage these very questions?  The answer is that they do it and stay aware that a professor can force one's values but, if aware of that risk, can avoid doing so while helping students search to find their own values--and live by them.

Previously I have posed questions that come up frequently in practice.  Please see Papers # 6 & # 7 at the following link:

I have asked students previously to address these questions (prior to) and then in class.  I have also had students journal about their reactions to these questions.  I am interested on feedback from others on (1) have they experienced the same or similar questions?; (2) what ideas do you have about other ways to engage students on these matters?

     --Professor Ben Madison, Regent University School of Law

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