ESSAY: CAN LAWYERS BE TRUSTED? * Skip over navigation
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Copyright (c) 1990 The Trustees of The University of Pennsylvania 
University of Pennsylvania Law Review


* This Essay is an elaboration of the Owen J. Roberts Memorial Lecture, which the author delivered at the University of Pennsylvania on November 10, 1988.


New York University Law Review

138 U. Pa. L. Rev. 913





I am honored to be speaking as an Owen J. Roberts Memorial Lecturer, and to be doing so as perhaps the first emissary from the field of philosophy. It is clear, however, from previous lectures that philosophical questions have been centrally at issue from the beginning. This is not to be wondered at, since it is hard to find a legal issue that does not raise such questions -- epistemological ones, perhaps, concerning what can and cannot be known, or moral ones having to do with what is right or wrong. What the British philosopher Mary Midgley said of philosophy applies equally to legal analysis: Philosophy, like speaking prose, "is something we have to do all our lives, well or badly, whether we notice it or not. What usually forces us to notice it is conflict." 1

Among the reasons for public distrust of the legal profession is a common perception that too many lawyers violate basic moral principles when it suits their purposes. This perception often conflates two types of conflict that arise for lawyers. In both, lawyers confront choices about observing common moral constraints such as those on lying or the concealment of crimes; but in conflicts of the first type, the primary motive is self-interest, whereas, in the second, it is the interest of the client. About the first, there is little dispute in principle. Representatives of the bar agree with the public that lawyers should not exempt themselves from common ...
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