What does legal ethics teaching gain, if anything, from including a clinical component?


  • Anna Cody University of New South Wales




In some law schools legal ethics have been taught very conservatively, focussed on the law of lawyering with a heavy emphasis on ‘professional rules’ and how to ensure solicitors and barristers behave within the professional rules. Others however have proposed different models for thinking about lawyering, lawyers’ ethical duties and the role of lawyers within the legal system.  In this article, legal ethics, ethical decision making and values are explored.  I ask what value can be gained by including a clinical component within a standard legal ethics course even when it is a short exposure experience.  I explore the range of meanings ascribed to ethics and professional responsibility, and the connection between personal and professional identities.  Finally using three vital elements within the definition of an ethical legal professional, I evaluate whether the clinical component contributes to teaching students about how to be an ethical legal professional.  I draw from the Best Practices of Australian clinical legal education to assist with this process, and discuss some additional learnings which students gain from seeing legal practice modelled for them in a community legal centre, located within a university faculty of law.  Some of the challenges of developing an effective clinical component are explored such as the importance of training volunteer lawyer supervisors and how to assess the learning by students.   The ways of sharing the individual learning across the student cohort is also a further challenge.

Author Biography

Anna Cody, University of New South Wales

Associate Professor of Law at UNSW; Director of Kingsford Legal Centre, Australia