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51 Me. L. Rev. 229 (1999)


The first thing Niebuhr and Guttman are telling us to do is to look around and figure out what is going on around us. With that in mind, it has seemed to me that, at the simplest, a lawyer (or a journalist) functions in at least four communities, any one of which might be a community to talk about lawyers' moral questions in.

My inquiry, then, is an inquiry in communitarian legal ethics, using a Guttman-Niebuhr focus on responsibility. I infer a further question about communities of moral discernment—that is, not only where a modern lawyer is responsible but also where she can talk about being responsible. I am, in other words, trying to imply, from my mentors' interest in responsive actors, an interest in responsive communities. I propose to take these ethical questions to locations for four possible answers: the civil community of the American republican vision; the circumstantial gathering of lawyers we usually mean when we talk about "the bar"; the intentional and institutional gathering of lawyers into the modern American law firm; and the community a lawyer has with clients. Finally, I want to ask about the possibility of a backup community of moral discernment, on the possibility that none of the four is ethically adequate. The scheme, then, is three questions, asked in each of five communities.


Published originally in the Maine Law Review as Thomas L. Shaffer, Towering Figures, Enigmas, and Responsive Communities in American Legal Ethics, 51 Me. L. Rev. 229-239 (1999). Copyright by University of Maine Law School.



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