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The Ethics of Legal Advising: The Case of the Torture Memos

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The Ethics of Legal Advising: The Case of the Torture Memos

Professor of Law at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York, Bradley Wendel is a leading legal ethicist and author.

Course Summary

Using the controversial “Torture Memos” as a backdrop, Professor Bradley Wendel of Cornell University in New York examines lawyers’ ethical obligations in the context of legal advising.

Course Details

The object of this course is to examine how lawyers should think about the ethics of legal advising.  What boundaries should lawyers observe when asked to offer advice on the law?  What might make legal advice good or bad, right or wrong?

This course explores the ethics of legal advising, providing as a case study the memos prepared by US government lawyers regarding the harsh interrogation techniques used on suspected terrorists (which are now popularly referred to as the “Torture Memos”).  Although advising on torture may seem like an extreme example, it works well as a case study on exploring the relationship between law and morality, because the moral issues are particularly clear. Lawyers in such circumstances cannot avoid asking the difficult question of whether their professional role excuses the conduct of third parties that could be characterised as morally wrong.

The issues considered in this course are not limited to the specific case study of the “Torture Memos”, or even to advising by government lawyers, but includes lawyers representing individuals and corporations that may wish to engage in moral wrongdoing, where they seek the advice of lawyers on how to avoid the legal consequences of their actions.

The course discusses several different approaches to the relationship between lawyers’ professional obligations and ordinary morality, using these different approaches to explore the ethical issues associated with legal advising.

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