Monday, January 28, 2019
Since Watergate, law schools have required their students to take classes in which they learn the rules of ethical legal conduct. But, is this enough? Will law school graduates act ethically just by knowing the ethical rules?
Aristotle thought there were two types of virtues: intellectual virtues and moral virtues. Intellectual virtue is excellence in the knowledge of virtue. Moral virtue is the ability to act in a virtuous way. Teaching students rules helps them excel in intellectual virtue, but only a few law schools have classes that help students excel in moral virtue--excellence in action. Helping students develop their professional identities helps them develop moral virtue.
I used the word "develop" in the last sentence because schools can't teach moral virtue, but they can help their students develop it. How is this done?
For Aristotle, the first step in developing moral virtue is to find a virtuous role model. What characteristics does that virtuous person possess? After identifying those characteristics, the student practices them. At first, this will seem very unnatural for the student. But, with practice, the characteristic will become habit--it will become internalized. Thus, the student will have attained practical wisdom--the knowledge and ability to act in a virtuous way.
I hope you can see why law schools need to have professional identity classes. Students can develop moral virtue in practice, but it will be much easier for them if they have a "coach" in law school to guide them along.