Michael Ariens—Law School Class of ’82—Is a Deep and Deft Thinker

This is the first in a series of three blog posts this week by Marquette law faculty on a new book.

The Lawyer's Conscience - A History of American Lawyer EthicsOver a distinguished career Professor Michael S. Ariens of St. Mary’s University has made rich contributions to the scholarship devoted to American constitutional law, legal history, his adoptive home state of Texas, navigating the challenges of law school, and, central for our purposes, the practice of law and the American legal profession.

Professor Ariens’s new volume—The Lawyer’s Conscience: A History of American Legal Ethics (University Press of Kansas 2022)—continues a theme that animates much of his recent scholarship. Put succinctly, that theme is this: The American legal profession has veered off course. It has done so, according to Ariens, in a host of ways. Among them, he contends, are these:

  • Commitment to clients has supplanted commitment to the public good.
  • The pursuit of profit-maximization has transformed the enterprise from a profession into a business.
  • The day-to-day touchstones of (first) honor and (then) conscience that impelled lawyers up through the middle of the twentieth century have melted away, replaced for the typical lawyer by an impoverished set of minimum standards of conduct promulgated by the American Bar Association in the early 1980s.
  • Independence from client interests—independence that enabled lawyers and their firms to both be and be perceived as being separate from those client interests—has been supplanted by a sort of shotgun marriage that leaves today’s law firms unable or unwilling to maintain appropriate distance from client interests.
  • A profession whose members once shared a common vision of what it means to be a lawyer and found ways to speak in something of a unified voice has “fractured,” creating the sorts of factions James Madison described in Federalist 10. Such fracture, Ariens submits, has dissolved this once-unified vision and rendered it virtually impossible to achieve meaningful consensus on principles that matter.
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On Zeigler: How He Teaches

Thirty years of law teaching entitles an individual to pause, reflect, and pass along some insights about the craft.  Or so it seems to me.  Professor Donald Zeigler of New York Law School has availed himself of the opportunity by giving American legal education a slim yet rich volume with the three-word title How I Teach (Tribeca Square Press 2008). 

In much smaller print on this paperback’s cover appear the words “Successful techniques for the law school classroom.”  These seven additional words, coupled with the big three, pose something of a paradox.  Together they can be construed to suggest that all or virtually all of law teaching (or perhaps all or virtually all of what Professor Zeigler considers his law teaching) unfolds within the walls of the law school classroom.  In Professor Zeigler’s defense, the seven words do lend themselves to an alternative construction, a construction that conveys the limits and boundaries of his scholarly project.  Quite simply, Zeigler is eager to share with professional colleagues lessons that, presumably, have enabled him to develop into an effective classroom instructor and, also presumably, have enabled his students to extract considerable value from his classroom teaching.  And share he does.  It thus seems fair to cut Zeigler some slack in connection with the ten words he has selected to characterize his project.  Enough said about the volume’s cover, title, and subtitle.

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