Ethical Professionalism in Legal Profession; Challenges in Educating Ethics

Paper presented at the 2017 CLEA Conference in Melbourne

Thushara Rajasinghe
High Court of the Republic of Fiji Islands

The enrolment of a group of newly graduated law students from the University of the South Pacific in 1998, marked the beginning of legal education in the Fiji Islands. Years later, two more law faculties in the Fiji National University and University of Fiji also started to offer legal education, enrolling at least three batches of newly graduated law students in to the legal profession yearly. The proliferation of lawyers in a country, where the population is only nearly one million has brought many challenges, both positively and negatively. Once elite, who had been educated and trained in leading commonwealth jurisdictions such as UK, Australia and NZ, dominated legal profession is now mainly driven by locally educated law graduates, shifting the profession from old school professionalism towards the post-modern era of professional conducts.

Inter and intra professional conducts of the lawyers have been designed by the dynamisms of the post colonial social, political, and economical variables. The conservative professional conduct and elitism embodied in the old professionalism has been replaced by the norms, conditions, values and demands of the competition within and outside of the legal profession, making myriad of social and professional adversaries.

Opening of the legal profession to more wider spectrum of the society from the selected elitism and the new conditions and values emerged with it, have widened the definitional scopes of “ethical lawyering” and “good lawyering, challenging the legal educators in designing and teaching the “ethics” in law schools.

This paper is an attempt to understand the challenges in the education of legal ethics and to suggest appropriate changes in order to meet these new challenges in the legal professionalism. The paper will first try to understand the historical development of legal education and opening of the profession to general public from selected elitism in Fiji and the impact of this proliferation of legal profession on ethical professionalism. The attention then will move to discuss the changes of social and professional perception of the profession in order to identify the challenges, new conditions and issues face by the profession. The discussion will then focus on whether the existing code of practices and ethical education would suffice to restore the ethical professionalism in the wake of competitive propagation of legal profession. It will further discuss how the distinct social and cultural values and norms of the Pacific Islands would assist in establishing an effective and practicable ethical condition for the increasing competition in the legal profession, both within and outside of it. The attention will then focus on whether such approach of making an ethical conduct, eventually lead to more common and effective approach in commonwealth legal education system in educating the future lawyers in legal ethics.

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