Taking Responsibility: Mandatory Legal Ethics in Canadian Law Schools

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Mandatory Legal Ethics, LE/PR Courses, Canadian Law Schools, Concrete Suggestions for Reform


In an era when professionals, bar societies and judges are often heard lamenting the decline in legal professionalism, mandatory legal ethics and professional responsibility instruction in law schools would seem to be an obvious, and obviously appropriate, response. Many might assume that most Canadian law schools require that their students take a legal ethics/professional responsibility ("LE/PR") course. However, that assumption would be incorrect. Despite the convincing arguments that have been made in favour of teaching LE/PR in Canadian law schools over the past 20 years, the fact remains that today only five of the 21 schools have a mandatory course in legal ethics and professional responsibility.

We believe that the time has come to step back and take stock of the Canadian situation by exploring what is preventing mandatory LE/PR instruction from becoming more widespread in Canada. Our objectives in this paper are twofold: first, to highlight the barriers to mandatory LE/PR instruction in Canada; second, and more importantly, to identify strategies for overcoming such barriers. At the outset, we must acknowledge that we begin with the assumption that legal ethics and professional responsibility should be mandatory in Canadian law schools. Although we may refer to the arguments in favour of mandatory LE/PR in our discussion of barriers and strategies, this is not the focus of the article. Rather, we explore and consider some of the impediments to mandatory legal ethics instruction, including institutional, faculty and student resistance. We then consider some possible strategies (persuasive, facilitative and compulsory) for overcoming these impediments. Our goal is to provide those who endorse mandatory LE/PR in Canadian law schools with some concrete suggestions on how to make it happen.