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Report on legal ethics at the initial stage

31 January 2011

As part of its campaign for ethics to be included as a compulsory component of the qualifying law degree, the Law Society participated in the UK Centre for Legal Education (UKCLE) event 'Legal Ethics at the academic stage: exploring the issues', held in May 2010 and aimed at the academic community.

Many attendees expressed concerns about the compulsory inclusion of ethics in what they feel is an already crowded curriculum. Others felt that it is not the place of the legal profession or professional bodies to dictate what the curriculum should contain.

Following this event, the Law Society commissioned Professor Andrew Boon to produce a report which recommends the most effective way of including ethics as a compulsory element of the undergraduate curriculum, and to attempt to address a number of the concerns raised at UKCLE event.

Findings from the report

Professor Boon's final report, outlines:

  1. a definition of ethics, in the context of the qualifying law degree;
  2. a model ethics syllabus, including learning outcomes for the qualifying law degree;
  3. an analysis of the most effective way of teaching ethics, discretely or pervasively; and
  4. a consideration of the possible objections to the introduction of a compulsory ethics component to the qualifying law degree, including resource implications for law schools, and proposals for how the Society may be able to assist in overcoming these issues.

Recommendations

The report makes the following recommendations:

  • A definition of ethics, in the context of the qualifying law degree being:

    'The study of the relationship between morality and law, the values underpinning the legal system, and the regulation of the legal services market, including the institutions, professional roles and ethics of the judiciary and legal professions.'

  • The Law Society should lobby for the inclusion of a model curriculum for delivering legal ethics that is based on, though not necessarily identical to, that appearing in the report.
  • A substantial core of the legal ethics curriculum should be delivered discretely, preferably as a full foundation subject. If this is not possible, the Law Society should consider the following options:
    • that the legal ethics curriculum be delivered as a half foundation subject with pervasive delivery of other, substantial elements or that the joint statement be revised to conform to the day one outcomes (as amended to reflect the proposed ethics curriculum), or
    • that the joint statement specifies the outcomes of legal education only, leaving providers to propose appropriate ways of achieving those outcomes.
  • The Law Society should explore with the law schools:
    • what timescale for the implementation of proposals is reasonable;
    • whether financial or other assistance is necessary to deliver the ethics curriculum; and if so,
    • what form such assistance might take.

 Download Professor Boon's full report (PDF 195kb)