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New Approaches to Teaching Legal Ethics (Program)

Roseline Ehiemua, Ambrose Alli University (Nigeria); Katerina Lewinbuk, South Texas College of Law (US); Caroline Strevens, School of Law University of Portsmouth (UK); and Hugh McFaul, The Open University (UK) (Moderator)

New Approaches to Teaching Legal Ethics

The papers on this panel will explore new approaches to the challenge of delivering effective legal ethics education. They will consider the opportunities and challenges involved in four approaches: drama, mindfulness, positive psychology and distance learning. The use of a drama model for teaching core values will be considered as a way to provide an interactive and visual way of improving student confidence, resourcefulness, creative and communicative abilities. Incorporating mindfulness practice into legal education will be explored as a way to enable students to become more effective, ethical, happy and healthy advocates. The potential benefits of using principles of positive psychology within the legal syllabus will be explored and the panel will conclude by examining the effectiveness of virtue ethics as a model for delivering legal ethics education to distance learning students.


Roseline Ehiemua: Developing a Drama Model for Teaching Legal Ethics

This paper develops a drama model for the teaching of core values in legal ethics, namely: to uphold the rule of law at all times; be fair and just to fellow counsel and to clients; to avoid sharp practices; to stake one’s honor and integrity when one’s client’s case is a fit and proper one for determination and resolution; not to decline a client’s brief when one is sure of his guilt; not to perjure evidence to convict or acquit the accused at all cost; to exercise the highest degree of care, skill and professional competence in order to avoid liability for damages attributable to negligence; etc. The paper suggests that these values can be the themes for drama synopsis to be deployed by law teachers in a legal ethics class while students are shared into groups and made to improvise and act out stories/developed plots around the shared core values of legal ethics. The aim of this paper is to provide a pragmatic teaching approach to legal ethics through drama in order to make the ethics of the legal profession have more experiential, rather than mere theoretical, value. Such ideals will make greater impact on those training to be lawyers than as presently observed in the lack of ethical standard amongst some new lawyers in Nigeria and other jurisdictions. The dramatic medium has the potential of creating lasting memories. It makes learning interactive and visual. It enhances resourcefulness, creative and communicative abilities and improves sense of confidence.

Katerina Lewinbuk: Lawyer Heal Thy Self: Incorporating Mindfulness Into Legal Education & Profession

The time for change in legal education and profession is now! Balancing traditional methods of analysis with mindfulness training in law school will enable students to focus and learn more efficiently, as well as develop their own professional identity, all while preparing them for the complexity of the legal field. Mindfulness practice will produce more effective, ethical, happy and healthy advocates. Law schools should provide students with the analytical and emotional training to care for and utilize their most valuable asset—their mind. The effect of heightened clarity and focus from mindfulness allows attorneys to produce more efficient work and empathetically represent clients. Through mindfulness meditation, the lawyer has an increased awareness of any possible bias or prejudice and can overcome these barriers in mediation, negotiation, and litigation. Mindful lawyers are overall better equipped to deal with the unexpected.

Mindfulness is a westernized secular version of ancient meditation practices, involving non-judgemental awareness, paying attention deliberately, moment to moment, without judgment, to the workings of the mind and body. Mindfulness is becoming mainstream in America, with the National Institute of Health spending $100M on research pertaining to its benefits, Time magazine featuring it on its cover and many more. It is now practiced by Pentagon leaders, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Google and General Mills employees, many law schools, and bar associations. The gist of the practice is attention training, which helps us establish a connection between our intent and action at the moment. As legal educators, we need to help our students develop the ability to better focus and minimize distraction. After all, isn't great lawyering about paying close attention?!

Caroline Strevens: Positive Psychology Lessons for (Law) Teachers 

This paper will discuss the potential of a new approach to curriculum development that includes basic principles of positive psychology within the legal syllabus at the academic stage.  Carol Ryff, Martin Seligman, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Todd David Peterson, and Elizabeth Waters Peterson have all written about the concept of subjective wellbeing  (or happiness).  According to Martin Seligman positive psychologists focus on the study of “positive emotions, positive character traits and enabling institutions” as opposed to addressing mental illness.  These studies embrace the concept of values and in some instances are informed by Aristotle’s ideas about happiness being based upon virtue and living a virtuous life. 

Carol Ryff’s six category model of psychological wellbeing embraces: self-acceptance, personal growth, purpose in life, positive relations with others, environmental mastery, and autonomy.  Following Aristotle she believes that in order to flourish a balance must be achieved. 

This paper will discuss values in relation to subjective wellbeing and potential benefits of including psychological literacy within the law curriculum. Values are important in terms of motivation and meaning.  An understanding of one’s own values and motivation supports psychological wellbeing.  In turn this may affect ethical decision-making and resilience to stress.  This can benefit both law students and law teachers. 

This paper is informed by data from the Law Teacher Perceptions of Wellbeing survey conducted last summer by Caroline Strevens and Clare Wilson with financial support from the Legal Education research Network (LERN http://ials.sas.ac.uk/lern/lern.htm). 

Hugh McFaul: Distant Virtues: Legal Ethics in Distance Learning Education

This paper will reflect on some of the pedagogical and philosophical issues that arise when teaching ethics to part time distance learning law students. It will briefly outline the institutional and regulatory context for UK legal ethics education and consider the pit falls of legalism for the ethical education of law students. Legalism has been described as an ethical outlook which is ‘the operative outlook of the legal profession: moral conduct is a matter of rule following, and moral relationships consist of duties and rights determined by rules.’ (McBarnet and Whelan 1991, p.849) It will explore whether virtue ethics can provide a suitable philosophical counterweight to legalism in the teaching of legal ethics. It will consider whether a focus on character development rather than ethical rule following might be a way to challenge legalism as operative outlook of the legal profession. It will consider the particular challenges of this approach in the context of distance learning legal education. McBarnet, D. and Whelan,C. 1991. The Elusive Spirit of the Law: Formalism and the Struggle for Legal Control. The Modern Law Review, Vol. 54, No. 6, pp. 848-873.

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