What Law School Couldn't Do For Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz
(a) A law school shall offer a curriculum that requires each student to satisfactorily complete at least the following: (1) one course of at least two credit hours in professional responsibility that includes substantial instruction in rules of professional conduct, and the values and responsibilities of the legal profession and its members.
One almost has to be a lawyer already to see the real difference between these requirements.
Finally, continuing legal education (CLE) requirements specifically address ethics, requiring from one to four hours per year, depending on the jurisdiction.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with requiring lawyers and law students to know something about the law governing their own profession, and its disciplinary code, or with requiring law schools to teach it (if one concedes that the ABA has the appropriate expertise about legal pedagogy).
But all of us know that none of this - not one bit of this regulatory and educational armamentarium - will cure what ails the Josh Hawleys, Ted Cruzes, and Kayleigh McEnanys of the world. As Burnyeat says, quoting Ross's translation of Aristotle, "What argument would remould such people?" Yale Law School (Hawley '06) and Harvard Law School (Cruz '95, McEnany '17) are no more to be blamed than less-esteemed Thomas M. Cooley Law School (Michael Cohen '91) or Widener University Commonwealth Law School (Don McGahn '94). Nor can Yale Law School take credit for the character of Stacey Abrams '99 or the University of Georgia for Sally Yates '86, or Columbia Law School for Roberta Kaplan '91.
Law schools have always attracted some students whose ambition and greed outstrip their ethics. Some of these students are very smart - law school PR courses and the MPRE will hardly be stumbling blocks for them. But this is only to be expected. Done well, legal education provides an opportunity for those of less-developed good character to get better, to come to understand the "why" of an ethical lawyer's conduct, and learn to admire the noble and just conduct of lawyers past and present. At best, law school will hone and develop preexisting moral dispositions. It won't instill them - we can only hope it won't extinguish them. Law schools are not places where adults "learn to be good." Just places where they learn to be good lawyers. Aristotle knew what Plato (and the ABA) apparently did not: formal education alone (especially of adults), for all the knowledge it might impart, simply does not have the formative (much less transformative) consequences for character that might be wished.
The collective exhale following the end of the Trump Administration ought to be followed by real soul-searching in the halls of legal academe. As in the years following Watergate, it is likely that there may be calls for "action" of some kind, in the vain hope that something inside the law school building could prevent the further emergence on the national scene of politician-lawyers, politician-lawyer-judges, and politician-serving lawyers who seemingly have no regard for the truth, the rule of law, or democratic principles, or who will readily subordinate any of these to their own overweening ambition. But the changes our political system cries out for will not be solved by the ABA, the curriculum committee, or even the admissions office.