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Joseph Raz


Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility


The question considered in the session was whether the concern of legal ethics is the morality of law, the morality of clients, or the morality of lawyers. The response I have been pursuing, in my book and elsewhere, is that all of these moral concerns are tied together in the lawyer’s role. The morality of law, clients, and lawyers are interrelated, but the political perspective is primary. The law serves a political purpose, of making public life possible despite first-order moral pluralism. When people disagree, either at the level of moral principles or over the facts that bear on the resolution of some issue, they can resolve their disagreement by force, deception, or coercion; by an ongoing process of debate (as deliberative democrats recommend); or by using some kind of procedural mechanism to establish a collective resolution of the problem, which supersedes the considerations over which there was disagreement. Public life in a liberal democracy is largely structured by the framework of legal norms and institutions that enables citizens to coexist and cooperate, despite their disagreements. Of course there are many considerations apart from law to which people refer in their dealings with one another. To the extent the lawyer’s role has any normative significance, however, its significance is bound up with the law’s function of settling moral and empirical conflict. This paper defends that conception of the relationship between law and morality, using Joseph Raz's two-level structure of practical reasoning.


This paper was presented at a plenary session on jurisprudence and legal ethics at the Fourth International Legal Ethics Conference, held at Stanford Law School in July 2010.

Publication Citation

Published in: Legal Ethics, vol. 13, no. 2 (December 2010).