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Lawyer-client relationship, Legal ethics, Law governing lawyers, Monroe Freedman, David Luban, William Simon, Ronald Dworkin, Jeremy Waldron


Law and Society | Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility | Legal History | Legal Profession


Discussions of legal ethics generally assume that lawyers should deliberate straightforwardly on the basis of reasons to act or refrain from acting. This model of deliberation fails to account for the role of the law in resolving normative disagreement and coordinating social activity by people who do not share comprehensive ethical doctrines. The law represents a collective decision about what citizens ought to do, which replaces the reasons individuals would otherwise have to act. This Article contends that legal ethics ought to be understood as an aspect of this theory of the authority of law. On this account, lawyers have a duty not to reintroduce contested moral beliefs into the law by relying on them as a justification for action within the lawyer-client relationship. Lawyers should not act on the basis of their principled moral beliefs, but on the basis of legal directives. This does not mean that lawyers should blindly defer to their clients' wishes, and it does not entail the familiar maxim of zealous advocacy within the bounds of the law. In many cases, this conception of legal ethics is closer to the traditional vision of the lawyers as guardians of the public purposes of the law. In the course of developing this argument, this Article uses case studies of lawyering dilemmas to illustrate how respect for the law makes a difference to legal ethics.


This article pre-dates the author's tenure at Cornell Law School.

Publication Citation

Published in: Columbia Law Review, vol. 104, no. 2 (March 2004).