Teaching Public Citizen Lawyering: From Aspiration to Inspiration

Mae C. Quinn, University of Florida Levin College of Law


This essay is concerned with teaching students about responding to the everyday travesties and inequities they may encounter in our courts and legal system. This essay outlines the ways in which I have tried to convey to students the importance of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct Preamble’s message of lawyer as public citizen. In it I share my view that law schools—not only in traditional professional responsibility courses—should encourage students to grapple with this ethical concern which is not fully captured by the “black letter” rules. I hope to more deeply explore what it means for clinicians and their students to be public citizen lawyers in a given community. Proceeding in four parts, this essay begins that exploration. Part I of this essay outlines the Model Rules’ Preamble. Part II looks at ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1 as the single black letter guideline attempting to address a lawyer’s special responsibility for the quality of justice. Unfortunately, this rule tends to privilege traditional pro bono client representation as the preferred route for meeting this responsibility. Yet pro bono publico representation is not required; it is merely aspirational. In Part III, I share some ideas for conveying the importance of the Preamble and public citizen lawyering to law students by offering examples from my teaching at Tennessee—in our clinical program, in a practicum course, and in others places across the curriculum. In Part IV, I conclude by offering some lessons learned, as well as discussing challenges I face while helping to launch a new youth advocacy clinic at Washington University. In the end, my hope is to inspire students to look beyond the rules’ aspirational goals and to serve as public citizen lawyers in law school and beyond.