School of Law professor elucidates ethics in the legal field

January 31, 2023

The conscientious lawyer

by Nathaniel Miller

Legal ethics expert Michael S. Ariens continuously strives to be the type of author he wants to read.

Writing five books about various aspects of the law and the legal profession, Ariens, J.D., LL.M., hopes to be that author who writes the book on the niche topic his readers need most. He also teaches courses in legal ethics, American legal history and constitutional law at the St. Mary’s University School of Law.

Michael S. Ariens sits in the Rare Book Room in the Sarita Kenedy East Law Library.

With every topic he explores, he said writing and researching continue to bring him joy and a sense of accomplishment. His latest book, The Lawyer’s Conscience: A History of American Lawyer Ethics, published by the University Press of Kansas in November 2022, explores the legal profession through the eyes of moral dilemmas and the power attorneys wield in American politics.

The pride he feels regarding his latest book is the same as his first one in 1996.

“It’s always exciting because you put in a lot of work,” said Ariens, who is the Aloysius A. Leopold Professor of Law. “Seeing the first advance copies and having them in your hands is really something.”

Ariens hopes the book will attract both law professionals and casual readers because he feels it is important to know attorneys do more than give flashy press conferences when accepting high-profile cases.

The book advises that attorneys should weigh their actions against their conscience. Helping shape the United States through casework and legal argument, attorneys must also represent their clients to the best of their abilities, even when what’s ethical isn’t popular with the general public.

Using the Red Scare of the 1950s as an example — when then-U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy led rampant accusations of communism — Ariens said one of the struggles attorneys at that time faced was representing those accused of communism-related crimes.

Everyone under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution has the right to a public trial and a lawyer. Ariens said those who took on communism-related cases at that time were criticized personally and professionally for sidelining their personal beliefs to make sure those accused had legal representation.

“The School of Law goes above and beyond to remind our students about the importance of caring for both their clients and the community they serve.”

Michael S. Ariens

“Those attorneys knew that it could have a deleterious effect on their ability to earn a living,” he said. “But for those folks who still did, it was just astonishing and impressive.”

When teaching his ethics course, Ariens said his class discusses how they, as future attorneys, will have their personal beliefs tested when practicing law. When that time comes, he added, their education at the School of Law should prepare them.

“The School of Law goes above and beyond to remind our students about the importance of caring for both their clients and the community they serve,” Ariens said.

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