Class considers profession

March 29, 2010
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IL reporter Rebecca Berfanger wrote this post.

Last week, I was invited to sit in on a class for an article I’m working on about the legal professions class at Indiana University Maurer School of Law – Bloomington.

As part of a new requirement at the law school that started last spring, 1L students take an ethics and professional responsibility class that offers a new look at not only how to think like a lawyer but also what it means to practice as a lawyer.

By teaching students about real situations that had real ethical dilemmas, the professors go through the situations step by step, including the specific rules of professional conduct that can be applied.

During the March 23 class, the situation involved an associate at a large international law firm who had learned the day before a deposition with another large law firm’s attorneys that an employee of the client company may have forged documents.

In this scenario, explained professor and attorney John Steele, the associate has to choose between letting the client attend the deposition and either lie about or admit to forging the documents. Or the associate can ask opposing counsel to postpone the deposition without going into too much detail to tip them off as to what is going on. Neither situation is an easy thing to handle for the associate and his client.

Steele then asked the students what they would do and why, going rule by rule as to the ethical issues involved, including best practices of how to stay out of the situation in the first place when representing a client and an employee of a client.

Steele, who flies in every week from California to teach the four-credit course while maintaining his law practice, has taught legal ethics before, but said this was a truly unique offering making it worth the travel time to Indiana.

Other than ethical issues, the course offers in-depth discussions about different types of legal jobs to consider. In an opening lecture, Steele showed a pie chart that illustrated only about 4 percent of legal jobs are at big law firms, and the rest are in many other areas.

Because the class I attended happened to involve attorneys at a large law firm, he explained to students how to react to the situation if they ever find themselves in that young associate’s predicament particularly with a large firm, but the advice could also apply to a small firm. Luckily, he said, most firms would rally around their young associates, and it wouldn’t hurt their jobs if they needed to speak up.

In this situation, for example, he encouraged the students not only to figure out what the professional rules were that would apply, but to start by simply asking, “Who is the client?” and go from there.

If you’re a student at I.U. Maurer School of Law or another school with this type of class, what did you think? If you haven’t taken this version of the legal professions class in law school, how did your ethics class compare?
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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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