'Public service must begin at home': The lawyer as civics teacher in everyday practice

In contrast to the modern understanding that associates the 'citizen lawyer' most often with law reform, pro bono work, and other efforts outside daily private practice, this Article argues that lawyers shape American democracy in all parts of their practice, especially the everyday work of representing clients. Given expression in the 1958 ABA/AALS Report authored by Lon Fuller as well as in writings that both predate it and postdate it, the conception of the lawyer serving the role we describe as a “civics teacher” directly addresses the lawyer’s counseling of clients in the daily private practice of law, regardless of whether the matter relates to a transaction or to litigation. It emphasizes that when lawyers counsel clients about their legal rights and obligations, and about how to act within the framework of the law, lawyers invariably teach clients not only about the law and legal institutions, but also, for better or worse, about rights and obligations in a civil society that may not be established by enforceable law, including ideas about fair dealing, respect for others, and concern for the public good. This conception also addresses aspects of lawyers’ work aside from client counseling, because lawyers teach clients by example, especially when lawyers address their own legal obligations in the course of a representation. Adopting and elaborating upon the idea of the lawyer’s role as civics teacher, we suggest, would lead lawyers to perform this function more self-consciously and, therefore, more often for the better.
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