Typically, legal ethics scholarship focuses on the kind of rules that govern the legal profession and the enforcement mechanisms that guide them rather than the individuals who benefit from those rules. When considering how the legal profession can improve the standard of ethics, scholars often spend a great deal of time focusing on how the model rules can hold lawyers more accountable or how specific provisions can be better enforced. Yet, when scholars discuss improvements to legal ethics, it is not always clear who is supposed to be served by these changes. Without a firm understanding of who legal ethics is currently serving, who it is trying to serve, and most importantly, who legal ethics fails to serve, the profession will be unable to properly address its most fundamental challenges.

Our keynote speaker and panelists responded to these challenging questions through a keynote address and two panels focusing on democracy and access to justice. In the recordings below, our esteemed speakers answer the questions of who the legal rules of ethics currently serve and how can we better understand or even change those rules so that they better help the intended beneficiaries.

The Real and Imagined Beneficiaries of Legal Ethics

Keynote Address by Adam Raviv, Senior White House Ethics Counsel

Mr. Raviv’s article, forthcoming in Issue III, served as the inspiration for Volume 35’s symposium. In his article, he states that the rules of professional conduct governing lawyers are “intended to have one, and only one, primary beneficiary.” According to Raviv, the beneficiary is not always the lawyer’s client. In many circumstances, the beneficiary may be third parties, the lawyer personally, the legal profession at large, or some combination of all of these constituencies. Given the wide variety of beneficiaries, Raviv makes clear that it is essential to know who the rules are serving in order to fully understand the purpose of the professional rules of conduct and how they are supposed to operate in practice.


The Democracy Panel

Rakim Brooks, President, Alliance for Justice (Moderator)

Abbe Smith, Director of the Criminal Defense and Prisoner Advocacy Clinic, Co-Director of the E. Barrett Prettyman Fellowship Program, Professor of Law, Georgetown University
Rebecca Roiphe, Professor of Law, New York Law School
Angela J. Davis, Distinguished Professor of Law, American University Washington College of Law

The Democracy Panel centered on a broad array of topics, from lawyers’ duty to self-regulate ethical violations within the profession, to what this duty means for free speech, to the meaning of democracy and its connection to the legal profession. Panelists shared their thoughts on the self-policing nature of the legal profession and how this principle is practiced in various fields, from academics to prosecutors. Our panelists also discussed how prosecutors tried to maintain the rule of law and democracy under the Trump administration. Finally, the panel closed with a series of questions on how lawyers should balance their professional duty not to misrepresent the truth with First Amendment rights. To read more about these issues, check out Professors Cynthia Godsoe, Abbe Smith, and Ellen Yaroshefsky’s article Can You Be a Legal Ethics Scholar and Have Guts? in Issue III.


The Access to Justice Panel

Rashaud Hannah, JD/PhD Student & GJLE Member (Moderator)

Nora Engstrom, Professor of Law, Stanford Law School
Bruce Green, Louis Stein Chair, Fordham Law School
Eli Wald, Charles W. Delaney Jr. Professor of Law, University of Denver Sturm College of Law

The Access to Justice Panel focused its discussion on the Unauthorized Practice of Law Rules and how these rules potentially limit nonlawyers’ ability to provide basic legal advice to clients who cannot afford a lawyer. The discussion centered around the groundbreaking complaint filed in federal district court in New York. In the complaint, the plaintiff challenged the prohibition against non-lawyers providing legal advice as a violation of the First Amendment. This is a unique lawsuit with the potential to reshape the legal landscape for years to come by making basic legal services both more affordable and more easily accessible by beginning to allow non-lawyers to represent clients in court. To read more about these issues, check out Rashaud Hannah’s article “Noisier, Nastier, Costlier”: Shoring Up Institutional Legitimacy In Judicial Elections Using a Legal Ethics Framework –and Professor Eli Wald’s article—The Access and Justice Imperatives of the Rules of Professional Conduct in Issue III.