The New Legal Ethics

Lecture Date



There is an emerging tendency by lawyers and nonlawyers alike to attribute the unethical acts of clients to the lawyer who represent them. This is a paradigm shift that Professor Wendel calls the new legal ethics — new because it is coming to predominate in the critical moral assessment of lawyers’ conduct. The old legal ethics of neutral partisanship and the ideal of zealous advocacy no longer appears to attract the allegiance of a younger generation of lawyers or of lawyers who identity as politically progressive.

Instead, ethical critique of lawyers emphasizes a very strong conception of complicity; expresses a profound mistrust of systems, procedures, and chains of command; is comfortable with the exercise of significant discretion by lawyers without much oversight or accountability; and is animated by a strand of utopianism about an ideal society in which something other than law backed by coercive force is sufficient to control antisocial behavior.

Starting with two case studies, this lecture will explore the problem of complicity in moral philosophy and how it influences other aspects of this emerging ethical stance.

Speaker Information

Brad Wendel joined the Cornell faculty in 2004, after teaching at Washington and Lee Law School from 1999-2004. Before entering graduate school and law teaching, he was a product liability litigator at Bogle & Gates in Seattle and a law clerk for Judge Andrew J. Kleinfeld on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

His teaching interests are in the regulation of the legal profession and torts, and his research focuses on the application of moral and political philosophy to problems of legal ethics.

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