Name: Patrick Emery Longan
Title: Bootle Chair in Ethics
School: Mercer University
Mailing Address:
1021 Georgia Ave.
Macon, Georgia 31207

Phone: (478) 301-2639
Home Page:
Summary Description:

Mercer University requires all first-year students to take a three-credit, graded course entitled The Legal Profession. This course is not the required course on the Rules of Professional Conduct. Rather, it covers broader issues of professionalism and related challenges of life in the law.

The classroom component of the course proceeds on two “tracks.” The “Professionalism” track consists of thirty class meetings. The students begin with a discussion of what professionalism means for lawyers and why it matters. We come to a definition that includes five requirements: (1) that a lawyer have the expert knowledge and skill necessary to provide competent assistance to his or her client; (2) that a lawyer act as a fiduciary of his or her client and always act in the client’s best interest regardless of the financial or other interest of the lawyer; (3) that a lawyer contribute some of his or her services for the good of others without expectation of payment; (4) that a lawyer acting as an advocate place his or her duties as an officer of the Court before the lawyer’s duties to a client or the lawyer’s own interests; (5) that a lawyer act with civility in his or her dealings with others. The classes then examine how the legal profession promotes and enforces professionalism, what obstacles to professionalism exist in different practice areas, and how the profession could improve its efforts to promote and enforce professionalism. The exam at the end of the course concerns the material covered in the “Professionalism” track.

The second classroom component is the “Living in the Law” track. These classes, all but one of which are taught by distinguished guest speakers, present issues such as what makes the life of the lawyer a life worth choosing, what obstacles exist to fulfillment as a lawyer, how attorneys can cope with or overcome those obstacles, how lawyers can find a higher calling within their profession, and how lawyers can integrate their professional and spiritual lives. One goal of this part of the course is for students to see the connection between a sense of fulfillment as a lawyer and observance of the five attributes of professionalism. The students have required readings for these classes and must attend, but the material is not covered on the exam.

The course includes three non-classroom components. First, the students write two reflective papers on their ambitions as lawyers, one at the beginning and another at the end of the course. Second, each student participates in an “oral history” interview of a senior member of our local Inn of Court. In these interviews, the students hear the reflections of seasoned members of the bar on the challenges and joys of life in the law, and the students write a short paper relating the interviews to concepts they have learned in class. Third, the students choose a biography or autobiography of a famous lawyer or judge from an approved list. They read the book and participate in a discussion group about it.

Program History:

The Legal Profession first became part of the curriculum in 2004. As a required course for first-year students, it will be offered every year. Approximately 140 students took the course in 2004, and approximately 130 are taking it this semester. Effective with the class of 2006 (which took the class last year), no student will graduate from the Walter F. George School of Law without taking the course.

Confidential Items:
The supporting materials include excerpts from student papers that were written as part of the course’s requirements last year. These excerpts should not be distributed or published. Because their comments were solicited and given anonymously, permission to disseminate this material cannot be obtained.

Expanded Program Description (Optional):

The Legal Profession course has three related goals. The first is for the students to learn about professionalism for lawyers. They must know what it means, why it matters, how it is challenged, and how it is enforced. The second goal involves the personal experience of living the life of the lawyer. The students need to appreciate that this profession is more than a job and that it brings special challenges and opportunities. The third goal is for the students to feel a connection with lawyers who have gone before them and found meaning in their professional lives. This third goal is intended to reinforce the first two by giving the students examples of what professionalism can mean for the lawyers who practice it and for those they serve. Each goal has its own method of instruction and assessment.

The first goal is instruction in professionalism. Students do not arrive in law school with an understanding of “professionalism” or an appreciation of why professionalism matters. They have no vocabulary or framework that will enable them to recognize and discuss issues of professionalism when they encounter them. Just as students in Torts are learning new information about the law and a new vocabulary for discussing it, students in the Legal Profession course are learning about what will be expected of them and why they should fulfill those expectations. Because this part of the course is traditional in its goal, it is traditional in format and assessment. The students have assigned readings and are expected to come to class prepared. The method of assessment is a traditional essay exam that is graded according to the Law School’s customary grade distribution guidelines. The “professionalism” classes and exam are intended to look and feel like other law school classes because their goal is similar, and also to ensure that the students take them as seriously as they would more traditional courses.

The second goal is an understanding of what it means, from the perspective of the individual lawyer, to live a life in the law. Students come to law school for different reasons, with different ambitions, temperaments, and abilities. Few students arrive with a true appreciation of the challenges and opportunities that await them. Without such an understanding, however, lawyers are too likely to suffer from unexpected difficulties in living the life of the lawyer or to miss opportunities for fulfillment that are not apparent to one outside the profession. This part of the course is intended to remedy this lack of understanding. Because its goal is unconventional, its methods and its means of assessment are unconventional. The students begin the semester with a confidential, reflective essay on why they have chosen the law and what they hope to accomplish in their careers. The students also read a set of required materials and attend a series of presentations on why the life of the lawyer is worth choosing, what special obstacles lawyers sometimes encounter, how lawyers can overcome those obstacles and find deep meaning in their careers, and how they can integrate their spiritual and professional lives. At the end, the students write a second reflective essay on their goals as lawyers. The purpose of this part of the course involves more introspection than information, and accordingly the exam does not cover this material. The requirements are to complete the papers, read the material, and attend the presentations.

The third goal is for the students to understand that professionalism, and the special kind of life that lawyers live, are part of a long tradition from which they can draw sustenance. They learn from the first part of the course that there are high expectations of them as professionals. They know from the second part of the course that there are challenges and opportunities in the law that they did not contemplate. What they need, in light of this new knowledge and understanding, is the comfort of knowing that others have fulfilled those expectations and lived that life with success and with deep joy. Put another way, students who are gaining an understanding of the importance and magnitude of what they have undertaken need heroes whose example will sustain them in times of doubt or temptation. The Legal Profession course seeks to fill that need in two ways. First, every student meets with an older lawyer, a member of the local Inn of Court, to discuss how that lawyer!
has met the expectations of professionalism and found fulfillment in the law. The students then write an essay reflecting on the life of this lawyer in light of what they have learned in the course. Second, every student reads a biography of a famous lawyer or judge and attends a discussion group of others who chose the same book. The book gives each student a glimpse of the great history of lawyers and may prompt them to begin a life-long habit of reading about it. This part of the course does not lend itself to traditional assessment tools such as an exam. The students meet with different lawyers and read different books. Accordingly, the means of assessment are participation in the lawyer meeting and the discussion group and completion of the essay and book.

The three goals of the Legal Profession course are interrelated. For lawyers to fulfill their roles in society, they must abide by the five requirements of professionalism. To live a life in the law that embodies these virtues is at least one way in which the life of the lawyer is one that has deep, intrinsic meaning. Further, the lawyer who lives that life perpetuates a tradition and in so doing honors those who came before and safeguards the tradition for those who follow. The Legal Profession course uses means of instruction and assessment that vary according to the particular objective, but in the end the overriding goal is to produce a generation of new lawyers who are eager to live the life, and fulfill the responsibilities, that the legal profession offers.
Supporting Materials:

1. Letter from Dean Daisy H. Floyd, February 4, 2005 (pdf file)
2. Syllabus (with reading assignments)
3. Excerpts from Student Reflections, Spring, 2004
4. Excerpts from Student Oral History Papers, Spring, 2004