What Are Values in Law?

One of the most important questions that I face this week as a practicing attorney is “what are legal values?” The reality is that legal education and training do not address what are values in law. You see, the concept of what are values in law is almost completely foreign to most attorneys. Virtually all of our training and what we are taught is centered around the mechanics of law and the application of law.

Law, like everything else, should be about what are the best values of law and what are the worst values of law. I say it’s like a sports car – you want to have the best engine, right? Well, what about the parts that really matter? Like I said earlier, the law is all about the practical application of law. In other words, what are the important parts of the law and what are the parts that can make a difference when you’re walking into court?

Unfortunately, much of what is taught in the first years of law school about what are ethical and what are moral behaviors is inconsistent with the realities of contemporary life. That is to say, ethical behavior and ethical beliefs and norms are often viewed as being outside the realm of the rational mind. It is often assumed that if someone acts in a way that is considered morally wrong, there is no need for further analysis or objective evaluation of that action. Unfortunately, this lack of ability to look at things from various perspectives leaves law students with an incomplete understanding of just how important their ethical decisions and judgments are and therefore, their ability to defend them under the appropriate circumstances.

Values courses helps law students understand that their actions will have long-term consequences. That is to say, if one chooses to violate an ethical principle or the law, one’s ethical decisions will inevitably bear upon future events, even in the absence of other ethical decisions or actions. This will mean that future generations will be required to determine what was right and what was wrong based on their understanding of values and ethics. This is why, as a prerequisite for law school, many students take the values or ethics course. It gives them a solid educational foundation to build on.

How do you know what are values in law? One way is to look at what your parents and other people in your community and society believe in. Ask yourself what types of moral and ethical convictions you currently hold. If, for instance, you are religious and your parent’s religion instructs that a person should not kill another, you likely hold that belief. If your work indicates that you value fairness and equal outcomes for all, then you may hold this belief. And so forth.

Of course, one cannot expect to conduct a full survey of what are values in law. There are too many different opinions and beliefs on nearly every issue you can think of. Therefore, it is wise to look for a law review course that deals with the topic as broadly as possible.

For example, some ethicists believe that human dignity is not just a value because a person does not deserve to be treated worse than another, but because a person is already a human being. According to these ethicists, a person should treat others the same way they would wish to be treated, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, age, religion, or any other relevant characteristic. For these ethicists, a person is an entity that has certain basic rights that cannot be taken away by government, private entities, or other individuals. So, according to this legal principle, the killing of an anti-human killer is not justifiable, it is also legally permissible.

In addition to the kinds of legal cases studied in law school, students also learn about the different legal theories that govern the way the law covers such issues. A good legal education thus requires learning about the different theories, including substantive and procedural law, civil law, and corporate law. Since the study of law often involves the application of principles, law school students will find that they learn about property, torts, corporate law, and criminal law during their educational career.

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