Almost there: Empirical insights into clinical method and ethics courses in climbing the hill towards lawyers’ professionalism

Josephine Palermo, Adrian Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Lawyers’ professional (ethical) behaviour is under challenge as a result of major public disclosures in recent years. In an effort to deal with such challenges, a focus on ethical fundamentals is called for. It is not unreasonable to assume that lawyers’ moral reasoning might play some role in the decisions that are made in everyday legal practice, especially those that lead to subsequent criticism. However, until now there has been a dearth of research into ethical responses of Australian lawyers or law students. A longitudinal study exploring the relationships between values and ethical behaviour for early-career legal practitioners has been concluded. This study situated participants within hypothetical contexts that provided for ethical dilemmas and comprised a representative Australian cohort of final year law students, tracking them through their first two years of employment or further study. Of particular interest in the conclusions reached in this study was the effect of gender, clinical experience and prior ethics education on changing responses. Findings suggested that there were significant differences over time in responses to ethical dilemmas, particularly for females and participants who experienced clinical and ethics-focused subjects during their law degree. Like females, participants who had completed a clinical placement and ethics course were more likely to exhibit significant changes in responses across the three years of the study. The direction of change could be said to be largely in the direction of better ethical conduct. This could be a consequence of greater exposure to ethical dilemmas and scenarios during clinical placement experiences and ethics courses. The implications of results are discussed in the contexts of ethics education in a tertiary educational environment, and postadmission to legal practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)252-284
Number of pages33
JournalGriffith Law Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2008

Cite this