Why use art to teach lawyering?' Despite divergences in method and intention, the two disciplines overlap. If the prevalence of lawyers in movies, television, literature, and even humor means anything, popular culture remains fascinated with lawyers. Our practices, our ethics, and our professional personae serve as a mine for image and narrative, a target for cultural critique, and a catalyst for expression. Not surprisingly, images of lawyers in cartoons, film, television, and literature offer unique opportunities to teach and explore professionalism. The proliferation of lawyer images in popular culture provides an array of material ranging from career choice to particular actions and behavior. This material elicits powerful responses about the morality, purpose, role, and identity of lawyers, in addition to traditional questions of legal ethics. The responses prompt students to reflect on career choice, professional persona in the legal world, and their development as human beings within a web of professional commitments.
This Article argues that the cultural images of lawyering provide opportunities for teaching professionalism that go well beyond the teaching of ethical rules using hypothetical facts. We contend that use of different media allows teachers to chart the broad middle ground between disciplinary minima and aspirational maxima-the map of realistic professional practice. This ground includes both rule- and conduct-based ideas ofprofessionalism: careful role definition; responsible practice management; appropriate balance between public and private commitments; and concerns over manners, dress, and work ethic. The middle ground also includes less traditional content, discussion of which brings students to appreciate the subjective disciplines of lawyering. The subjective dimension includes the feel of lawyering for the practitioner: the psychic demands of an active, fully engaged practice. It also includes the subjective experience of the clients who use lawyers, as well as the complex interweaving of subjective and external factors in the situations in which lawyers are called to act.
Using cultural representations of lawyers thus expands the notion of professionalism outside the bounds of the codified professional rules of conduct. One professor of ethics and professionalism refers to the examination of the varying layers of legal work as involving "macro" and "micro" contexts. We accept this distinction, and extend it: the rules of ethics provide a micro-context, around which popular media provide a macro context within which to appraise a different (and fuller) notion of professionalism.
What renders the use of media unique is its tendency to prompt immediate imaginative experience and assessment of the various dimensions of professionalism. Through a well-chosen excerpt, one can consider both what the rules of ethics require alongside discussions of the moral complexity, emotional content, or even spiritual challenge posed by the situation. From these conversations, students can emerge with their language and awareness enlarged to include a richer and more reflective vision of their own identities as lawyers.
Our argument proceeds in three phases. First, we review widespread notions of "professionalism," illustrating and explicating our notion of professionalism as occupying the middle ground between discipline and aspiration. Second, we provide examples of teaching plans in which we have used different media, including examples of cartoons, movies, and short fiction as vehicles for teaching. Finally, we appraise the common challenges and objections to using the arts for these purposes; while law students form our first and most immediate pool of critics, these objections may have also occurred to others who have used the arts in this way.
We recognize that our approach builds on the enthusiastic use of fictional representation in many modem law school ethics classes. We do not criticize, but rather seek to expand the range of what a teacher can do by using the arts in this way. We also hope to suggest the richness and power of conversations with students in which the traditional focus of classes on professionalism intersects with the more open-ended, expressive concerns of art.
Alex Scherr and Hillary Farber,
Popular Culture as a Lens on Legal Professionalism
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/fac_artchop/833