Legal Ethics Examples and Explanations in Teaching Law and Civil Procedure

I’ve been asked many times if I have ever taken any legal ethics classes and the answer is “No.” There were several good schools that taught this stuff in the early 1980’s but I did not take any classes in it. Why? Because I did not believe that the world of public lawyers could be made more interesting by adding religious and political components. And I also didn’t like the way that the curriculum was administered – it seemed to be too much of a political science course with too little of a focus on the law.

But recently, I’ve been watching what’s going on at the Markkula Center for Applied Legal Studies. The wonderful thing is that this great center has achieved so much in so short a time. Now, their website is much improved and they have added some wonderful blogs and they offer regular newsletters.

Still, when I watch what goes on there, I am dismayed. It is simply unbelievable that people would be allowed to teach these classes and yet they are doing it. Apparently the United States House committee on foreign affairs seems to think that “ethics of behavior” is an important topic to teach our new ambassadors and it would be great if we could send them to the Markkula Center for Applied Legal Studies, but as far as I’m concerned they should spend their time dealing with the real problems that face our nation and not waste their time listening to a nonsense lesson from the Markkula Center.

One of the ethical examples and explanations that they offer is part of a seminar that the United States House committee on foreign affairs sent out. It’s entitled “An Ethical and National Security Policy for Our Country.” In this lesson, the United States representatives on that committee to explain the importance of “social science” in aiding our diplomacy. They also talk about the role that ethics plays and how the world is affected by those ethics. The last time that I was at that United States House committee, some of those who were questioning the United States foreign aid package, some of the members actually brought in a piece of paper with an actual sociology lesson on ethics and it made me quite mad. That is to say that it was just a little too much political rhetoric.

Now then, let me introduce you to one of the major ethically relevant case studies from history, the Emmittsburg Process. Most people have heard about the case of Sarah Palin and her infamous “hope letter.” What you may not know is that her lawyers submitted a written argument, notarized it, and signed it as their legal practitioner. This shows you what legal ethics examples and explanations are supposed to be in this area of the law. Okay, so let’s talk about this for second shall we?

Okay, so let’s say that the House committee did approve of the President’s plan to aid the tribes and Native Americans in their economic situation, and also approved a waiver allowing the pipeline company to build the pipeline. And then they found that this was actually in violation of the law and there were conflicts of interest involved, which of course were the main issues in this whole imbroglio. Okay, so now what do you think now?

Well the ethical issues here are really rather simple, and they’re pretty much correct as far as my understanding of the law goes. So, what did they do wrong? They should have never allowed that example of the Governor to stand in front of them and give a written description of how he would interpret the law in the same way, or what it meant. How about when they tried to pass a law forbidding the EPA from enforcing the Clean Air Act’s ban on toxic chemicals?

Well, they could have tried to pass such a ban, and yet somehow they slipped in an ethical issue in there, which of course is just a bunch of nonsense anyway. So then, I’d like to ask all the attorneys out there, and all those professors who teach these courses on ethics examples and explanations, why on Earth do we need such nonsense in the first place? Please consider all this and think on it.

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