Legal Ethics and Justice

The details
Essex Law School
Colchester Campus
Full Year
Undergraduate: Level 6
Thursday 08 October 2020
Friday 02 July 2021
22 October 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

This module focuses questions of ethics and justice raised by legal practice. It is designed to provide students with the ethical frameworks necessary to equip them to provide legal services to community members as an adviser with the University of Essex's Law Clinic, as well as to explore issues of access to justice raised by the sort of problems which lead people to seek out the Clinic's help. However, it will be of interest and benefit to all students who are thinking of entering legal practice, particularly if they wish to use their legal skills to help those most in need.

The module will also appeal to those who enjoy "learning by doing". Thus a central focus is on what is called active or experiential learning in that it involves the use of real-life experiences or simulations designed to replicate such real-life experiences as the basis for learning. In law school, this form of learning is usually called clinical legal education. Throughout the world and increasingly in the United Kingdom clinical legal education is becoming central to legal education.

According to one expert, 'Clinical Legal Education involves an intensive small group learning experience in which each student takes responsibility for legal and related work for a client (whether real or simulated) in collaboration with a supervisor. The student takes the opportunity to reflect on matters including their interactions with the client, their colleagues and their supervisor, as well as the ethical aspects and impact of the law and legal process'. In the module such reflection will occur in class, in learning diaries and written assignments. .

For those who are Clinic members, reflection will cover both what they learn about ethics and access to justice in fortnightly seminars and from their clinical work (both cases and projects). In addition to also reflecting on their seminar learning, non-clinic members will reflect on participation in an exercise involving what is known as "Giving Voice to Values". Here, they will have attempt to persuade some other person (their boss or client, for instance) to chance a proposed course of action because of a clash of values relating to the ethics or justice of legal practice. The module will also explore current issues in obtaining access to justice. In addition, there will be an attempt to involve as much interactive learning as possible so that students gain experience in articulating their values in a safe environment before they venture into practice. Such interaction will occur in the fortnightly seminars which involve students using the learning form pre-set reading to explore actual dilemmas and issues which have arisen in law clinics and legal practice, and in some cases engaging in related role-plays.

The seminars will start with an introduction to experiential learning and the aims of ethical education, with particular emphasis on Giving Voice to Values. There will then follow nine seminars on issues of legal ethics and access to justice most pertinent to law clinic students and those who serve those most in need of legal services. Students will write fortnightly diaries while Clinic members will also write an essay reflecting on one or more aspects of their clinic work and non-clinic members will prepare for and reflect on their performance in a Giving Voice to Values exercise.

Module aims

The module aims:

1. To provide students with an introduction to the ethical issues which arise in law clinics and legal practice, the theoretical resources to resolve them and opportunities to explore how they should be resolved.
2. To provide students with an introduction to issues of access to justice which arise in law clinics and lgal practices designed to ensure services to those most in need.
3. To provide students with an appreciation of the ethical, social and political context in which legal services are provided.
4. To introduce students to the practice of reflection on experience in order to improve their performance and understanding of legal work.

5. To provide students with practice in arguing for particular positions on ethics and access to justice.

Module learning outcomes

On completion of this module the students should be able to:

1. Understand and critically evaluate the core ethical and professional principles governing the provision of legal services

2. Understand and critically evaluate the context in which these core ethical and professional principles governing the provision of legal services operate
3.. Engage in critical reflection on the performance of relevant legal and educational activities.

4. Confidently adopt and defend positions on legal ethics and access to justice.

Module information

Reflection on the ethics of the legal profession will involve looking at the most important ethical principles governing legal practice such as confidentiality and the avoidance of conflicts of interest and some of the most controversial debates such as whether lawyers should pursue immoral goals or use unethical means to achieve client goals, whether clients should be allowed to make "irrational decisions" and whether lawyers owe duties to ensure equal access to justice. Related to this issue is the current position as regards access to justice and possible means of redressing current problems. The module will also consider strategies for putting values into action in the legal professional setting.

Learning and teaching methods

This module is taught through a mixture of pre-recorded lectures and 10 weekly 50-minute small group tutorials. Each week before your tutorials, the module teaching team will make available on Moodle two or more pre-recorded video lectures that they have prepared and produced. In total, the duration of each week's video lectures will be approximately 50 minutes. In most teaching weeks, you will be expected to have watched these lectures before the tutorials, although some of these lectures may be designed to be watched after the tutorials to recap on material discussed there. The module teaching team will also produce and make available on Moodle short guidance notes for each weekly tutorial. These notes will introduce the readings that must be completed in advance of each tutorial and will contain tips to help you understand and analyse those texts. You will be expected to have completed the readings in advance of your tutorials. Your tutorials will enable you to discuss the readings in the context of specific tutorial questions, to obtain feedback on your pre-class preparation and to deepen your understanding of key concepts.To help you prepare in the best possible way for your tutorials, you will be completing regular small assessed activities to enable you to reflect upon and track your progress, understand what you are doing well, and give you clear feedback to help you manage your studies and your progress.


  • Menkel-Meadow, C. ., The trouble with the adversary system in a postmodern. (no date) 'The Trouble with the Adversary System in a Postmodern, Multicultural World', in William and Mary Law Review,. vol. 38 (1) , pp.5-
  • Boon, Andrew. (2014) The ethics and conduct of lawyers in England and Wales, Oxford, United Kingdom: Hart Publishing.
  • (2016) Access to Justice : Beyond the Policies and Politics of Austerity: Hart Publishing.
  • Rowan, Eleanor; Vaughan, Steven. (2018-04-03) '“Fitting in” and “opting out”: exploring how law students self-select law firm employers', in The Law Teacher. vol. 52 (2) , pp.216-230
  • Paterson, Alan. (2012) Lawyers and the public good: democracy in action?, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. vol. 2010
  • Herring, Jonathan. (2017) Legal ethics, [Oxford]: Oxford University Press.
  • (no date) Lucy Logan Green and James Sandbach ‘Justice in free fall: a report on the decline of civil legal aid in England and Wales’ (Legal Action December 2016).
  • Herring, Jonathan. (2016) 'Defining vulnerability', in Vulnerable adults and the law, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Webb, Julian S. (1999) 'Ch 2 The Philosophical Context', in Professional Legal Ethics:Critical Interrogations, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Nicolson, Donald. (1998-) 'Calling, Character and Clinical Legal Education: A Cradle to Grave Approach to Inculcating a Love for Justice', in Legal ethics, Oxford, UK :: Hart Pub,. vol. 16 (1) , pp.36-56
  • Herring, Jonathan. (2016) Herring, J (2017) Vulnerable Adults and the Law (OUP) – Chapter 3 (‘Vulnerable Adults and Capacity’), Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Sandbach, James; Grimes, Richard. (no date) Law School Pro Bono and Clinic Report 2020.
  • Jonathan Herring. (May 09, 2017) Legal Ethics: Oxford University Press.
  • Oxford Scholarship Online. (1999) 'The Social Context: Professional Ideals and Institutional Settings', in Professional legal ethics: critical interrogations, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • (no date) • The Bar Council ‘Running on Empty - Civil Legal Aid Research Report’ (January 2021).
  • (2015) 'Access to justice: beyond the policies and politics of austerity', in Access to Justice, Oxford: Hart Publishing.
  • Paterson, Alan A. (1996-03) 'Professionalism and the legal services market', in International Journal of the Legal Profession. vol. 3 (1-2) , pp.137-168
  • Nicolson, Donald; Webb, Julian S. (1999) Professional legal ethics: critical interrogations, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Nicholson, Donald. (2016) 'Our Roots Began in (South) Africa: Modeling Law Clinics to Maximize Social Justice Ends', in International Journal of Clinical Legal Education. vol. 23 (3) , pp.87-136
  • O'Dair, Richard. (2007) Legal ethics: text and materials, New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Vanhala, Lisa; Kingham, Jacqui. (no date) Literature Review on the Use and Impact of Litigation - Public Law Project.
  • O'Dair, Richard. (2007) Legal ethics: text and materials, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Menkel-Meadow, C. . (no date) 'Practicing in the Interests of Justice in the Twenty-First Century: Pursuing Peace as Justice', in Fordham Law Review,. vol. 70 (5) , pp.1761-
  • Simon, William H. (1991) 'Lawyer Advice and Client Autonomy: Mrs. Jones's Case', in Maryland Law Review. vol. 50 (1) , pp.213-226
  • Smith, Roger. (no date) The Digital Delivery of Legal Services to people on low incomes.
  • Donald Nicolson. (2012) 'Access to justice and the legal profession', in SCOLAG Journal. vol. 416, pp.133-136
  • (2015) 'The Mental Capacity Act 2005: capacity and best interests', in Assessment of Mental Capacity, London: The Law Society. vol. Legal handbooks (Law Society (Great Britain)
  • Nicolson, Donald. (2015-01-02) 'Legal education, ethics and access to justice: forging warriors for justice in a neo-liberal world', in International Journal of the Legal Profession. vol. 22 (1) , pp.51-69
  • (no date) Witness statement of Polly Neate, CEO of Shelter, regarding access to justice in statutory homelessness appeals (8 November 2019).
  • Sally Lipscombe. (no date) • House of Commons Briefing Paper Housing and access to legal aid Published Tuesday, May 15, 2018.
  • Mackenzie, Catriona. (2014) 'The importance of relational autonomy and capabilities for an ethics of vulnerability', in Vulnerability: new essays in ethics and feminist philosophy, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Oakley, Emma; Vaughan, Steven. (2019-03) 'In Dependence: The Paradox of Professional Independence and Taking Seriously the Vulnerabilities of Lawyers in Large Corporate Law Firms', in Journal of Law and Society. vol. 46 (1) , pp.83-111
  • Rhode, Deborah L. (1999) 'Cultures of Commitment: Pro Bono for Lawyers and Law Students', in Fordham Law Review. vol. 67 (5) , pp.2415-2447
  • (no date) - Emma Marshall, Sue Harper and Hattie Stacey Family Law and Access to Legal Aid (PLP Research Briefing Paper March 2018).
  • Dare, Tim. (2004) 'Mere-Zeal, Hyper-Zeal and the Ethical Obligations of Lawyers', in Legal Ethics. vol. 7 (1)
  • Wendel, W. Bradley. (2004) 'Civil Obedience', in Columbia Law Review. vol. 104 (2)
  • (2017) Access to justice and legal aid: comparative perspectives on unmet legal need, Portland, Oregon: Hart Publishing.
  • Moore, Sarah E. H. (2017) Legal aid in crisis: assessing the impact of reform, Bristol: Policy Press.
  • Welsh, N. A. (no date) 'Remembering the Role of Justice in Resolution: Insights from Procedural and Social Justice Theories', in Journal of Legal Education,. vol. 54 (1) , pp.49-

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Fortnightly Reflective Diaries    20% 
Coursework   Giving Voice to Values Exercise    20% 
Coursework   Summative Essay    60% 

Additional coursework information

60% Summative Essay 20% Skills-Based Coursework Assignment (involving a persuasion and negotiation exercise based on submission of an assessed action plan, an unassessed conversation with an audience and an assessed reflection on that conversation) 20% Fortnightly reflective diaries

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Donald Nicolson, email: dn17405@essex.ac.uk.
Mr Lee Hansen, Prof Donald Nicolson and Elizabeth Fisher-Frank, Lucy Davies, Jaime Lindsey, Timea Tallodi
Law General Office, lawugadmin@essex.ac.uk


Travel costs for UK - based unpaid, approved work placements and live projects which are an integral part of a module may be covered by your department. (NB this will usually exclude field trips and site visits). Please check with your module supervisor to ensure that the activity is eligible.

External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
Of 5338 hours, 0 (0%) hours available to students:
5338 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information
Essex Law School

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