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Favorable portrayals of lawyers in popular culture tend to adopt a distinctive ethical perspective. This perspective departs radically from the premises of the "Conformist Moralism" exemplified by the official ethics of the American bar and the arguments of the proponents of President Clinton's impeachment. While Conformist Moralism is strongly authoritarian and categorical, popular culture exalts a quality that might be called "Moral Pluck " – a combination of resourcefulness and transgression in the service of basic but informal values. This Essay traces the theme of Moral Pluck through three of the most prominent fictional portrayals of lawyers in recent years – the novels of John Grisham and the TV series L.A. Law and The Practice. It suggests that these works have two potential contributions to legal ethics – as evidence of popular moral understanding and as a guide to ethical conduct. With respect to the latter contribution, the Essay acknowledges various limitations but argues that the works deserve to be taken seriously as ethical discourse, and in particular, that it holds up well in comparison to Conformist Moralism.


Law | Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility