Legal Ethics: Exploring the Ethics of Lawyers and Lawyering - LAWS6170

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2024 to 2025
Spring Term 6 15 (7.5) Marie Kerin checkmark-circle


This course will afford students the opportunity to explore the moral and ethical questions surrounding legal practice in both a theoretical and a practical way. Starting with some philosophical arguments about whether and how lawyers might have specifically moral responsibilities, they will then be equipped to test such arguments in the context of case studies from real legal practice. This course will provide an intellectually demanding introduction to the academic study of legal ethics, which will push students to hone their skills of argumentation, analysis and critique.

Block 1. Why Legal Ethics? The course will start with an exploration of the moral reasoning and arguments that justify the notion of 'legal ethics'. This first block of seminars will introduce students to the theoretical questions which precede any acceptance of the practice of law as having a moral dimension.

Block 2. Case Studies and the Ethical Issues they raise. Starting with the case of the so-called 'torture lawyers' from the 'war on terror' of the American Bush administration, students will be asked to reflect on and discuss several case studies as starting points for discussion of issues in ‘legal ethics’ broadly conceived, including: responsibility for ‘doing wrong’, complicity, upholding human rights, conflicts of interest, integrity, the adversarial system as an excuse for moral neutrality or worse and confidentiality.


Contact hours

Private Study Hours: 130
Total Contact Hours: 20
Total Study Hours: 150


All undergraduate law courses

Method of assessment

13.1 Main assessment methods
The module will be assessed by 100% coursework as follows:

Coursework - essay plan (800 words) - 30%
Coursework - essay (2500 words) – 70% - PASS COMPULSORY

OR (at the discretion of the convenor)
Coursework - Presentation plan (800 words) – 30%
Coursework - Presentation (15 minutes) – 70% - PASS COMPULSORY

13.2 Reassessment methods
Reassessment instrument: 100% coursework

Indicative reading

Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics,(any edition)
Luban D., Legal Ethics and Human Dignity, David Luban, CUP, 2009
Markovits, D , A Modern Legal Ethics: Adversary Advocacy in a Democratic Age, PUP, 2010
Utilitarianism, Mill, J. S. (any edition)
Nicholson, D. and Webb, J Professional Legal Ethics: Critical Interrogations, OUP, 1999
O'Dair, R., Legal Ethics: Text and Materials, Butterworths, 2001
Kant, I., transl. H.J. Paton Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, NY Harper and Row, 1964 (or any other good translation)

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
1. Demonstrate a detailed understanding of the way in which any notion of 'legal ethics' must be predicated upon moral (philosophical) reasoning about the practice of law.
2. Analyse, critically evaluate and engage with philosophical arguments about lawyers' moral responsibilities and moral role(s)
3. Demonstrate an awareness of and ability to predict the ethical issues that will typically arise from various legal scenarios and outcomes.
4. Analyse and critically evaluate alternative responses to ethical dilemmas and questions that arise in legal practice.
5. Analyse and critically evaluate responses by lawyers to ethical dilemmas and questions using case studies. Develop skills of argumentation in supporting or attacking these different responses.
6. Demonstrate a detailed understanding of the ways in which questions in legal ethics intersect law and legal practice, moral philosophy and professional/practical ethics.
7. Engage in 'moral reasoning', i.e. to participate in thinking philosophically about the issues raised by legal ethics and demonstrate the skills of argument required to support a chosen position.

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
1. Analyse and evaluate complex material across several disciplines (law, moral philosophy, and professional ethics)
2. Demonstrate written argumentation skills
3. Demonstrate understanding, analysis and argumentation, using a variety of legal and non-legal sources.


  1. Credit level 6. Higher level module usually taken in Stage 3 of an undergraduate degree.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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