Catholic Moral Teaching and Natural Law: Changing the Way We Think About and Teach Professional Legal Ethics
Author(s)Meringolo, Peter P.
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AbstractLawyers have had a hand in virtually every financial scandal in recent news. These lawyers are hired to advise clients about how to structure hedge funds, financial products, and financial transactions. Because global economies are becoming more interconnected, when large and risky financial transactions fail, they shake the stability of markets around the world. The “hired gun” mentality is prevalent throughout the legal profession. In this mindset, lawyers believe that because they are engaged by a client, they must do their client’s bidding, and must be singularly focused on their client’s sole interests. Can we do anything to encourage lawyers to consider not only the interests of their individual clients, but also the ramifications of their actions on the common good? A lawyer’s conduct is deemed “unethical” if it fails to meet standards set forth in the professional ethics rules of the states in which they practice. If the bar association of any state wants to deter additional forms of conduct, the mechanism in place today would require the enactment of higher statutory standards. Our society and our profession should demand more than the present overly narrow focus on the individual good of the client, especially where such focus has serious negative repercussions on the good of society. We should demand that lawyers act not only as competent legal professionals, but also as good citizens and morally upright human beings. On this score, our Catholic moral tradition—-which teaches that human flourishing comes through the development of good moral character—-has much to offer to the discussion of legal ethics. If our Catholic faith aids in our moral development as human beings, should it not also affect the way we view and exercise our chosen profession? Now is the time for Catholic lawyers and law schools to take a leadership role in cultivating moral judgment and good character in lawyers. Academics are uncovering the historical efforts to change Catholic legal education. Moral theologians are reformulating thirteenth-century natural law principles and the tradition of virtue ethics that underpins them so that they may be usefully applied to modern realities. Building upon these recent developments, this Article argues that Catholic law schools should educate their pupils in the moral tradition of natural law, and Catholic lawyers should seek to integrate this tradition into their day-to-day practice, especially in the area of professional ethics. In other words, Catholic lawyers and Catholic law schools are uniquely positioned to help in the renewal of the ethical principles of our profession, and have an obligation to change the way we think about and teach professional legal ethics.