Thursday, August 9, 2007

Carle on Legal Ethics: the History of the 1908 Canons

This spring, Susan Carle, American University, posted on SSRN a series of earlier articles on the history of legal ethics. While we use SSRN most often for current work, posting earlier pieces is a great way to make them more widely accessible. Carle's three articles together provide a thoughtful window into early 20th century American legal ethics.

First is Lawyers' Duty to Do Justice: A New Look at the History of the 1908 Canons, which appeared in Law & Social Inquiry in 1999. Two articles by Carle on the NAACP and legal ethics will follow in another post. Here's the first abstract:
This article examines a long-forgotten controversy about lawyers' duties to evaluate the justice of their clients' causes in civil cases, which took place among the members of the Committee of the American Bar Association that drafted the 1908 Canons of Professional Responsibility. The article presents an analysis of newly discovered internal working documents of this important, but never before examined, ABA Committee, supplemented with primary historical research into the views and backgrounds of the Committee's members. The article demonstrates how a clash of perspectives among these men -- traceable in part to their backgrounds but also to their unpredictable allegiances to conflicting trends in legal thought at the turn of the century -- prevented the Committee from reaching a satisfactory resolution on the duty-to-do-justice issue. The Committee members instead adopted ineffectual compromise language in the Canons, leaving us with legacy of concealed ambivalence on the question of lawyers' "duty to do justice" in civil cases.