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William and Mary Law Review



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Legal ethics, professional responsibility, pedagogy, professional responsibility course, law school


We who teach legal ethics employ many of the teacher's arts to win our students' appreciation for the course. We do not always succeed. As Deborah Rhode has observed, "[t]here are inherent problems and infinite ways to fail in teaching this subject." Yet, we continue to seek a method for teaching the course effectively. If nothing else, our efforts have led to the development of a substantial body of literature on teaching legal ethics to which this Article will contribute. Its focus is on what, rather than how, to teach. This Article asks: What should be the content of the "basic" course in professional responsibility? Many would agree that a law school should offer such a course, although not every law school in fact does so, because law students must receive a basic grounding in the subject. Accordingly, in addition to considering how we should teach the course in "professional responsibility" or "legal ethics"--whether by simulations, videotapes, problems, or cases-it makes sense to consider what we should teach. This Article addresses the principal alternative, rather than supplement, to the "survey" course: a "contextual" course in professional responsibility. By this term, I mean a basic course that familiarizes students with "the skills, concepts and processes necessary to recognize and resolve ethical dilemmas"' that arise in a limited number of contexts, rather than across the full spectrum of legal matters, practice settings, and client types. Concededly, contextual courses do not give a complete picture. But no single course in professional responsibility can do so. Our experience at Fordham is that "less is more." A contextual course is more effective because it provides a better picture than the survey course and tends to be better received.