INTRODUCTION TO PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY: HEROES AND VILLAINS
The section of Professional Responsibility taught by Professor Cunningham differs both from other sections of the course at GSU (and generally from conventional approaches to teaching this subject) in a number of ways. The course design has been developed by Professor Cunningham over the past 25 years through his experience at four different law schools in not only teaching the required upper level legal ethics course but also directing both civil and criminal clinics and teaching practical skills courses. In the last five years the course design has also been influenced by lessons learned from the workshops of the National Institute for Teaching Ethics & Professionalism (NIFTEP), which is hosted by GSU and supported by the W. Lee Burge Chair in Law & Ethics, held by Professor Cunningham.
Among the distinctive features of this course are the following:
- The course is designed around a series of exercises based on real cases which include role plays conducted during class in which students must apply the rules of professional conduct to simulated lawyer-client interactions. Students must prepare to provide realistic portrayals of a lawyer, or sometimes a client, in front of their fellow students. These role plays may be videotaped for analysis but the student's performance in a role play is never the basis for grading. In a student questionnaire filled out at the beginning of the semester, students who do not wish to be videotaped in a role play may request alternate class participation responsibilities.
- 60% of the course grade is based on two short papers written during the semester which analyze how students playing the lawyer role in the class exercises applied the rules of professional conduct and exercised professional judgment. As is the case for many other College of Law courses where the grade is based in large part on papers or other writing assignments during the semester, these papers are not graded anonymously.
- Through the class exercises, reading historical and biographical accounts, and use of a variety of documentary and cinematic materials, the course aspires to immerse students in the real life work of lawyers and thus to share in the excitement, intense satisfaction, and profound challenges of representing clients.
- Each state has its own rules of professional responsibility that govern the conduct of lawyers in that jurisdiction, typically based on either the 1983 Model Rules of Professional Conduct adopted by the American Bar Association or a more recent version of the Model Rules adopted by the ABA in 2002. (The 2002 Model Rules have been further amended by the ABA, as recently as last year.) In this course, our primary source will be the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct enacted in 2001, based on the 1983 ABA Model Rules but with some important provisions not found in any of the ABA versions. Where the Georgia Rules differ in significant ways from the most current ABA Model Rules, the ABA Model Rules on the same subjects will also be assigned and discussed in class.
- Although one objective of the course is that students learn the most important rules of professional conduct (the primary subject matter of the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam), the course is not intended to be a bar review for the MPRE and not all the rules are covered in class. Instead much of the reading and time during class is devoted toward developing students'
- capacity for moral reasoning,
- understanding and appreciation of the lawyer's professional identity, and
- ability to implement effectively the kinds of decisions encountered in actual practice in ways that are informed by knowledge of the rules of professional conduct, sophisticated reasoning, and professional responsibility.
The reading assigned for Class One entitled Developing Professional Judgment provides a brief overview of the research on educational theory and moral psychology that has helped to guide the design of this course.