Realism, Responsibility, and the Good Lawyer: Niebuhrian Perspectives on Legal Ethics




Floyd, Timothy W.

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Notre Dame Law Review


What makes professional ethics challenging is that professionals act on behalf of other people, not for themselves. This dynamic is at the center of the debate over whether a good lawyer can be a good person. When lawyers attempt to justify doing ''bad'' things, it is usually on the ground of duty to clients. Many argue that the morality of a lawyer's conduct can only be judged within the peculiar role imposed by the profession; others insist that lawyers must be judged by the standards of "ordinary" morality and must not find refuge in an amoral professional role. This Essay attempts, to shed new light on this debate by approaching the question of the lawyer's loyalty to a client from a different angle. It suggests adding to the debate what can best be called "Niebuhrian" dimensions. In examining whsether a good person can be a good lawyer, the author draws upon the ethical thought of H. Richard Niebuhr and Reinhold Niebuhr-more particularly, the "ethic of responsibility" as explicated by H. Richard Niebuhr in his posthumous work Tee Responsible Self, and the concept of "realism" in the thought of Reinhold Niebuhr.



Professional ethics, Duty to clients, Morality


67 Notre Dame L. Rev. 587