Columbia Public Law & Legal Theory Working Papers

Document Type



Forthcoming Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics (2010)


Much recent academic discussion exaggerates the distance between plausible legal ethics and ordinary morality. This essay criticizes three prominent strands of discussion: one drawing on the moral philosophy of personal virtue, one drawing on legal philosophy, and a third drawing on utilitarianism of the law-and-economics variety. The discussion uses as a central reference point the “Mistake-of-Law” scenario in which a lawyer must decide whether to rescue an opposing party from the unjust consequences of his own lawyer’s error. I argue that academic efforts to shore up the professional inclination against rescue are not plausible. I conclude by recommending an older jurisprudential tradition in which legal ethics is more convergent with ordinary morality.

Date of Authorship for this Version

Fall 10-24-2009