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Law and Contemporary Problems

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The teaching of professional responsibility in U.S. law schools is entering a new age. A relative newcomer to the traditional curriculum, professional responsibility has struggled over the past twenty-one years to establish its intellectual legitimacy. It has evolved from a cramped course on the codes of lawyer conduct adopted by the American Bar Association ("ABA") to an expansive course on the law of lawyering. The premise of this essay is that professional responsibility has matured as a subject matter to the point where a new genre of courses should join the pervasive method and the traditional survey course. The richness and complexity of the subject matter demand an exploration greater than most law schools. As explained below in more detail, Fordham Law School has offered contextual courses for the past several years, in addition to the traditional survey course. We have found them to be extremely effective and rewarding pedagogical tools. From the students' perspective, the courses' readings and classroom discussions are highly stimulating. The single practice-area, multiple- employment framework captures the students' moral imagination because it almost invariably relates to their career interests. The students' engagement is greater at all levels of instruction. They are eager not only to learn the rules governing lawyers' conduct but also to debate the underlying public policies. Discussions of the rules' economic, political, and social consequences foster greater personal reflection. From our perspective, the contextual courses operate synergistically on our teaching and scholarship. The students' enthusiasm reinforces our own, raising the intellectual content of classroom lectures, problem-solving, and discussions curricula presently offer. The new age of professional responsibility will reflect this intellectual maturity through the introduction of contextual courses that are designed to nurture the development of reflective ethical judgment. These courses will be offered in addition to the pervasive method, in lieu of the traditional survey course, or as a supplement to them in the form of an upperclass elective. Contextual courses explore ethical dilemmas in the context of a single practice area (such as corporate, public interest, or criminal law) and in multiple employment settings (such as law firm, in-house, government agency, or prosecutors' offices). The individual topics covered in contextual courses are quite similar to those in traditional survey courses; however, contextual courses bring a sense of immediacy and coherence to professional responsibility that too often is missing from the traditional survey courses in which practice and substantive-law settings change from page to page.