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professional responsibility, Hurricane Katrina, legal ethics


Some rare, often catastrophic, events present in stark terms a need for careful reflection over the role of attorneys in our society and their ethical duties as members of the legal profession. The devastation caused by both Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 certainly falls within this category. Professor Colbert uses these events as a backdrop to examine the legal profession’s ethical obligation when crisis compromises the most basic elements of our system of justice. Acknowledging that numerous members of the bar and thousands of volunteer law students courageously stepped forward in those challenging times to assist the many people denied basic aspects of justice, Professor Colbert examines in a more fundamental way why relatively few attorneys in fact volunteered, as well as the broader responsibilities of the legal profession during such crisis. Tracing the century-old evolution of lawyers’ ethical codes, Professor Colbert reflects upon whether the legal profession takes seriously an attorney’s core value of public service. He challenges the bar to examine and to appreciate in a deeper way what the Model Rules’ Preamble declares in its’ opening sentence as the lawyer’s role “as a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.” Professor Colbert’s review of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and the September 11th attacks suggests that the “learned profession” has considerable distance to travel before it satisfies Model Rule’s 6.1, pro bono duty “to provide legal services to those unable to pay.” To cite just one example, he highlights the bar’s limited response to the Katrina crisis by noting that the sole criminal courthouse in New Orleans remained closed for ten months and thereby denied access to most incarcerated people awaiting trial. Professor Colbert’s article poses the fundamental question that every bar association and legal educator must answer. Are we doing enough to instill public service as a core requirement of preparing people to practice law and to meet their professional responsibility when disaster overwhelms our very system of justice?


Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility