Monday, June 5, 2017
DePaul law prof Julie Lawton has posted a new article, “Teaching Social Justice in Law Schools: Whose Morality is It?” Professor Lawton argues that “requiring law student participation in pro bono and legal clinics serving the indigent, as a condition of their graduation, is an improper imposition of my personal social justice morality upon my students.” She explains:
When there are a limited number of legal clinics at each law school and the majority of those legal clinics are serving low to moderate-income clients, mandating legal clinics is akin to mandating participation in social justice issues, similar to mandatory pro bono service. This mandate of social justice service suggests an unwarranted imposition on a student’s moral independence.
An imposition on “a student’s moral independence?” I always assumed that one core purpose of a profession is to identify and maintain prudent impositions on its members’ “moral independence.” If independence from such fundamental (I thought) moral claims as serving the poor is a virtue to be cultivated among our students, should we also avoid requiring them to participate in any exercise that may risk inculcating within them a respect for the rule of law or commitment to personal integrity? And should we be urging the ABA to pull back from its insistence on imposing particular views on the wisdom of confidentiality, competence, diligence, and candor?
Should law faculty proceed carefully when teaching contested moral and political issues to make sure that students are exposed to the best arguments on all sides? Absolutely. That's a worthy pedagogical objective to ensure that we're training critical thinkers who are effective advocates. It's not about equipping our students for lives of "moral independence," whatever that means. Navigating our biases effectively as teachers does not mean that a law school needs to avoid staking out a position on the basic moral norms that contribute to the animating vision for a particular school or the profession as a whole. We should be explicit and deliberate in discerning and conveying those basic moral norms. This is (I hope) obvious for those of us who work at Catholic law schools, but the conversation about moral norms shouldn't be absent from non-religious law schools either. Such conversations are a big part of what it means to be a profession.