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University of Exeter

The Lawyer, Ethics and Popular Culture:Legal Heroes and Practicing Villains

The Lawyer, Ethics and Popular Culture:Legal Heroes and Practicing Villains


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Year: 2012


“A barrister may be a very honorable man; but many thingswhich professional etiquette allows him to do; would be thought disgraceful anddishonest among ordinary people”

Popular culture has often depictedthe lawyer in an unsavory light. These depictions are informed by popularperceptions of legal ethics which are widely considered to be minimal,unenforced and widely circumvented. Yet, popular culture also allows us aglimpse of legal heroes and ethical champions, to which ambitious lawyers canaspire. Nuanced images of lawyers have permeated popular culture, from theplays of Shakespeare, to Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird,to Bob Odenkirk’s recent portrayal of Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad.What do these sources tell us about popular perceptions of professional ethics?And to what extent are they influenced by the regulation of the legalprofession? This lecture will examine the symbiotic relationship between the changingregulation of the profession and the representation of lawyers in popularculture.

Furthermore, the teaching of legal ethicshas recently been explored as part of the Legal Education and Training Review (reportpending), with particular emphasis being placed on the lack of ethical educationin the undergraduate curriculum. This lecture will exemplify how popularculture can be used as a lens to teach legal ethics at undergraduate level, inorder “to stimulate studentsto reflect on the nature of legal ethics, equip students with the knowledge andunderstanding to behave ethically and to play an active role in the formation ofprofessional ethics.” (Boon, A. 2010)

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