MSU College of Law

Courses on Legal Ethics and the Legal Profession

An array of required and elective courses on legal ethics and the legal profession are offered at the Law College.  All students are required to take Professional Responsibility during their second or third year. Effective fall 2011, the Law College implemented an innovative new 1L curriculum which includes a seven-week course, Lawyers & Ethics. This required mini-course exposes students to the ethical philosophy necessary for making decisions in life, law school, and law practice. Elective course options currently include Professor Knake’s seminar on The First Amendment and Regulation of Lawyers’ Speech and Professor Brenner’s seminars Global Perspectives on Women in Law and Gender, Power, Law & Leadership. Students who desire to focus on a particular topic related to legal ethics and the legal profession have the opportunity to do so as a Directed Study. 

Lawyers & Ethics. The course is taught in the first-year and supplements the required upper-level required Professional Responsibility course. The course exposes first-year students to the ethical philosophy necessary for making decisions in life, law school, and law practice.

Professional Responsibility. A course designed to acquaint the law student with many of the obligations owed by the lawyer, both individually and as a member of the legal profession, to the society in which he/she lives. In addition to a discussion of ethical problems involved in the practice of law, an overview of all phases of the profession will be undertaken, including disciplinary proceedings, the functions of Bar organizations and unauthorized practice.

Gender, Power, Law & Leadership. This seminar was initially inspired by the glaring omission of women from positions of power and leadership in the legal profession and beyond.  While women continue to enter law school and the legal profession in relatively equal numbers as men, they remain outside of the structures of power---in the judiciary, law firms, the corporate world and even law school. A great deal of time, energy and resources are devoted to trying to change this landscape, yet very little attention is paid to the site where it all begins: law school and legal education.  This seminar attempts to bridge this divide by exposing students to various theories of leadership and how leadership intersects with gender, power and law. It will focus on dynamics of the profession in which students will soon enter, exploring complexities of leadership, considering intersections of gender, race, ethnicity, etc. Questions will be considered like: What is leadership? Power?  What do leaders look law, politics, other professions? Who holds positions of power?  What accounts for the gendered dynamics of leadership?  We will identify some of the traits and characteristics associated with leadership and power, and observe leadership across all sectors of the legal profession, politics and related professions. In addition to readings and class discussions, students will read biographies written by and about various leaders. They will also have an opportunity to lead class discussions, present their research projects, engage in collaborative projects, and routinely offer critiques of their peers.

Global Perspectives on Women in Law. This seminar considers international dimensions of gender and the legal profession, providing students with a framework for increasingly global profession of law in which they will soon be a part. The seminar will include an exploration of history, employment trends, practices and demographics within all sectors of the profession (the judiciary, private practice, the corporate world, academia and public service). The seminar explores explanations of inequality - like bias and stereotypes - and considers other obstacles that have impeded the advancement of women in the profession across the globe. The seminar will explore these issues in selected countries, the European Union and United Nations and  International Courts. In addition to completing an extensive research project on a related theme, students individually write a biographical essay on a transformative woman lawyer and as a class create an annotated bibliography.

Topics in Professional Responsibility: The First Amendment and Regulation of Lawyers’ Speech. The First Amendment protection afforded to the speech of lawyers is a critically important aspect of professional responsibility and legal ethics.This seminar provides an opportunity for students to conduct an intensive study of Supreme Court cases, lower court decisions, legal scholarship, and other materials addressing the regulation of attorney speech. The topics to be explored in this seminar include attorney licensing requirements, regulation of professional advice, advertising/solicitation restrictions, legal blogs/websites, criticism of the judiciary, civility rules, courtroom decorum, pre-trial publicity/statements to the media, mandatory reporting/whistle-blowing, confidentiality duties, and judicial speech. It is recommended, but not required, that students take Constitutional Law II prior to enrolling in this seminar.

Law Practice Management. This course is designed to provide an overview of the issues involved in managing a law office.These include forms of practice (partnership, professional corporation, sole practitioners), personnel issues, physical requirements, computers, financial management, practice development and ethical issues. Also covered are various law office systems: docket, tickler, trust accounting, timekeeping, etc. It is recommended that students take the Professional Responsibility course before or concurrently with Law Practice Management.