Journal of the Institute for the Study of Legal Ethics


Dennis Chin

Publication Date



I have been asked, as moderator, to introduce the general topic of this afternoon's first session: "Access to the Legal Profession for Minorities." Professor Wilkins will be focusing on the law firms and, in particular, the experiences of Black partners in the elite corporate law firms. I will spend a few minutes giving you my perspective on the broader subject of minorities in the legal profession in general.

When I started preparing for this panel, my first thought was, "Why is the issue of access to the profession for minorities a subject at a conference on Legal Ethics?" I wondered whether this was a question more suited for a career development or professional development panel or a project for a bar association committee on minorities and the profession. What does the issue of minorities in the profession have to do, if anything, with our ethical obligations as lawyers?

Upon reflection, I concluded that the issue is a perfectly appropriate one, indeed an important one, to consider in the context of legal ethics, for essentially two reasons.

First, we've heard a lot now about the lawyer as public citizen, the lawyer statesman. The ethical lawyer is no longer merely someone who takes care not to violate the Code of Professional Responsibility or the Canons of Ethics. To the contrary, the concept of the ethical lawyer has been expanding. The ethical lawyer is a moral lawyer, a lawyer who not only complies with Disciplinary Rules, but who also exercises good judgment, is publicly spirited, and aspires to improve society. Hence, we have Dean Kronman speaking later today on "Professionalism," and we have Professor Gillers speaking tomorrow on whether "a good lawyer can be a bad person."

Under this broader concept of the ethical lawyer, lawyers do have a moral obligation, a duty, to improve access to justice and the administration of justice. This duty would include an obligation to improve the access of minorities to the profession.

Second, the issue is an appropriate one even if one takes a narrow view of legal ethics and looks just at the Canons. Canon 1, for example, provides that a lawyer should assist in maintaining the integrity and competence of the legal profession. The integrity and competence of the profession must be called into question if groups of people face barriers as they seek to enter and advance in the profession.

Ethical Consideration 1-1 states that "[a] basic tenet of the professional responsibility of lawyers is that every person in our society should have ready access to the independent professional services of a lawyer of integrity and competence." Canon 2 likewise provides that "a lawyer should assist the legal profession in fulfilling its duty to make legal counsel available." These provisions impose a duty on lawyers to strive to increase the number of minority lawyers to help achieve the goal that legal counsel be available to "every person in our society."

And finally, Canon 8 provides that "a lawyer should assist in improving the legal system." Well, some of you may ask, is it necessarily the case that the legal system will be improved if access to the profession for minorities is improved?



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