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The Importance of Legal Ethics

The Rainmaker (1997) showcases the various attitudes that legal practitioners may have towards incorporating legal ethics and moral frameworks within their practice. The chosen character for the analysis is Rudy Baylor. Legal ethics are crucial for those within the legal profession as they help ensure that the lawyers work towards the interests of the greater good over their self-interests within the profession. They are crucial in assisting a lawyer in navigating the best course of action when faced with dilemmas. In The Rainmaker, the unfair conduct of various lawyers who are pursuing their self-interests is shown, while Rudy has a client-centred approach and follows the legal framework of ‘moral activism’ in his professional conduct.

 ‘Moral Activism’ was first defined by David Luban as a commitment of the professional to acting for the good and engaging in the form of lawyering that is morally ambitious.  While developing an understanding of philosophical ethics is necessary, it is crucial to apply such ethics within practical moral situations. A lawyer engaging with moral activism within their practice tries to influence the choices of the client for the case in the situation that the lawyer does not agree with the justice or morality of the client. The practice of moral activism goes beyond their occupational role expectations and involves the lawyer showcasing accountability for their actions. Such a practice focuses on an enhanced view of lawyer and client autonomy, and the role of the adversary system is challenged or doubted under such a practice. Lawyers undertake a form of ‘ethical discretion’ within their practice of moral activism and aspire to take a stance on what they consider to be the morally right side of the case. Thomas Shaffer asserts on the ‘virtuous role’ that a lawyer plays within the profession and with regard to the interests of the society. Moral activism also implies that one takes into account the impact of their actions within the profession on a case by case basis. This framework is also co-related to the ethical approach of ‘deontology’, which does not focus on the maximization of value or good through one’s action, but rather focuses on one’s duty-based actions. ‘Deontology’, which can be translated from Greek as Science of Duty, implies that an individual must take those actions which they are morally obliged to take regardless of the consequences of those actions. This also implies that a prosecutor may not act as per the ‘moral law’ if he is aware that the defendant is innocent and not guilty of the charges being faced with. Preserving the best interests of the client is the primary duty of the legal professional and this requires applying the approach of moral activism in one’s practice.

In The Rainmaker, Rudy Baylor, who is portrayed by Matt Damon, is initially considered about following the acceptable ethics as he asserts in his initial conversation with Deck Shifflet about ethics that are taught in law school. The exchange between Shifflet and Rudy reflects the different stances that individuals within the legal profession can take depending upon their experience and the moral framework that they choose to follow. In the case of Rudy Baylor as a lawyer, he is faced with a number of legal, and ethical dilemmas as a young and new practitioner. The Rainmaker creates a distinction between a lawyer that is good versus a lawyer that undertakes a moral high ground. Though Rudy Baylor chooses to work under a corrupt lawyer, his motivations to join the profession and study in law school were due to his inspiration from the civil rights lawyers of the 1960s. He considers the lawyers of the civil movement to be the ones that create a good name for the individuals within the profession. His description of law school reflects his inclination of wanting to join the profession for a noble cause. Though Rudy chooses to work under a corrupt but successful lawyer as a matter of self-interest, he retains his values of ‘moralist activism’ by taking up the case of the Blacks’. Rudy lacks the legal competence and knowledge that lawyers are required to have for handling the Blacks’ case regarding bad faith denial by the insurance company. However, he was working under an experienced lawyer, and Shifflet also had the relevant experience in the field to guide Rudy successfully through the case. This reflects Rudy’s moral activism in taking up clients that needed help and were being wronged due to the corrupted morals of large corporations and other technicalities of the legal domain. His case could have been unsuccessful due to his limited experience in the field and could have resulted in losses for Stone’s firm. However, his efforts to help the Blacks’ show his general stance of being inspired by the lawyers from the Civil Rights Movement. Thus, his choice was not based on utility maximization but on a moralistic approach that sought to create the best result for the client. His representation of Kelly Riker also showcases his attitude toward working within the framework of ‘moral activism’. Another ethical issue was his killing of her husband and his representation of her later for the murder. However, he sought to preserve his own as well as Kelly’s best interests throughout the situation, and thus his approach reflects one of moral activism. This shows how Rudy keeps his social interests ahead of his personal interests as a lawyer. Rudy takes the moral high ground by supporting the Blacks’ case and by fighting against Great Benefit. Even though the company offers a settlement, Baylor still goes through with the case, which reflects the integrity of his moral principles. He does not take the route which would help easily resolve the case or be beneficial for all the parties related to the case, but rather chooses to expose the company in front of a jury by not going along with the settlement. Great Benefit is a corrupted company, and the Blacks were not their first victims, which is also discovered by Rudy in the course of the movie. Thus, Rudy is able to keep up an idealistic and moralistic attitude, not by virtue of following the legal Code of procedures, but by taking the stance for justice and influencing his clients to pursue the same.

Moral Activism within Legal Practice

In conclusion, the Rainmaker reflects the various ethical struggles a lawyer may be faced with. Rudy aims to act in the best interests of the society, as reflected by his reasons for pursuing the field of law at the beginning of the movie, and he chooses to violate various principles of the accepted Code of Conduct for lawyers for the purposes of seeking justice for his clients.

Rudy Baylor follows a principle of ‘moral activism’, which is a form of morally ambitious lawyering. The principle of moral activism is appropriate in practice because it encourages lawyers to seek justice and act for the betterment of society by seeking a morally valid path through the course of the case. This implies that lawyers and individuals within the legal profession ought to have strong moral values and a social attitude that seeks to create a lasting change within society. This is reflected in Rudy Baylor’s attitude throughout the course of the story.

The moral framework of ‘moral activism’ is appropriate for contemporary legal practice because it encourages lawyers to moderate their behaviour and professional choices as per the values of society and in accordance with the aim of achieving social justice. It is possible that the legal standards set by the Codes of Practice may not be appropriate for achieving justice. In this regard, Rudy had to overlook various values and ethical standards set by the professional Code for lawyers. When lawyers act in the capacity of moral agents, certain conduct may violate ethical norms but still be crucial towards the achievement of justice, such as Rudy’s attitude towards helping Kelly Riker come out of the relationship with her abusive husband. The ethicalness of a lawyer may not be determinable simply by their ability to follow all the rules and standards set under the law or being able to take actions based on legal opinions. For example, prior to the development of the Civil Rights Act in the U.S., racism was not outlawed. Aspects such as slavery and racial segregation prevailed within the country, and there was no legal basis for standing against such practices. However, abiding by the rules in such a situation would not necessarily imply that the lawyer is acting as an agent intending to achieve social justice. This makes the application of moral activism within society important as it helps in the development of a civil society that is able to achieve social equality and true justice. Various practices that have prevailed in the past, such as racial discrimination or the poor treatment of the aboriginal community, could not have been outlawed without the application of the practice of moral activism within the legal profession. In this regard, The Rainmaker creates an insight into what makes a lawyer’s conduct ethical, implying that the motivations of a legal practitioner are equally important in determining their ability to meet the ends of justice, as is their ability to follow legal regulations. The realm of law seeks to create a society that is corruption-free and just for the citizens of the nation.  This primary objective of legal jurisprudence can be achieved when lawyers act as moral agents.

The Rainmaker demonstrates that lawyers can either act in their self-interest or in the larger interests of society. The other lawyers in the movie, such as the experienced lawyers of Great Benefit, act as per the principle of ‘neutral partisanship’. This implies that the lawyers take every action possible that is in the best interest of their clients and thus indirectly act in their personal self-interest as well.  The lawyers of Great Benefit hold the awareness of the unethical practices of the organization but take every action possible in favour of the organization’s stance. These actions do not imply that the lawyers are violating any form of professional Code of Conduct but imply that the lawyers are engaging in actions that cannot be morally justified. For the legal professionals, a lack of powerful moral justifications for their stance implies that their actions are not truly defending the ends of justice but are based on the interests of their client. A lawyer that chooses to act as per the framework of ‘moral activism’ would seek to have an impact on the choices of their client when the client’s choices are not morally rooted. Neutral partisanship does not equate to taking moral accountability for one’s actions. The professionals acting as per the framework of ‘neutral partisanship’ are creating a non-accountability for their actions and also fail to maintain the integrity of the legal profession.  Moral activism allows the legal professional to take a holistic view of the problems of the client. It also incorporates the ethics of virtue. This implies questioning the morality of one’s choices and actions and taking those actions which are ethically justifiable.In my personal opinion, the moral activism framework combined with the framework of ‘ethics of care’ can truly help the legal professionals achieve the primary objectives of the profession and help in creating significant contributions toward the betterment of society. The ‘ethics of care’ requires lawyers to engage in a context-bound and morally sound decision-making process while considering their relationship with the client and also taking into consideration the morality of the situation. Rudy is able to reflect concern for his clients, such as the Black family and Kelly, while also acting in the spirit of moral activism. However, the lack of such values creates a demotivating factor for him leading him to choose a path of teaching rather than remaining within the profession.

Therefore, the moral framework applied by Rudy Baylor is appropriate for contemporary practice when it is combined with the ethics of care. This allows lawyers to act in the best interest of the client while also acting in the best interest of society.

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My Assignment Help (2022) Legal Ethics And Moral Activism In The Rainmaker (1997) [Online]. Available from: https://myassignmenthelp.com/free-samples/llw3009-lawyers-ethics-and-professional-responsibility/legal-ethics-and-moral-frameworks-file-A1E359D.html
[Accessed 03 March 2024].

My Assignment Help. 'Legal Ethics And Moral Activism In The Rainmaker (1997)' (My Assignment Help, 2022) <https://myassignmenthelp.com/free-samples/llw3009-lawyers-ethics-and-professional-responsibility/legal-ethics-and-moral-frameworks-file-A1E359D.html> accessed 03 March 2024.

My Assignment Help. Legal Ethics And Moral Activism In The Rainmaker (1997) [Internet]. My Assignment Help. 2022 [cited 03 March 2024]. Available from: https://myassignmenthelp.com/free-samples/llw3009-lawyers-ethics-and-professional-responsibility/legal-ethics-and-moral-frameworks-file-A1E359D.html.

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