Going Back to Kindergarten: Applying the Principles of Waldorf Education to Create Ethical Attorneys



There have been many articles about the ethical decline of lawyers. The current research suggests that practicing attorneys feel all too comfortable overlooking their personal morals and judgment when representing their clients. A survey of younger lawyers showed that most of the respondents resolved ethical dilemmas by “retreating into their role as advocates” where their legal reasons for making decisions outweighed any social consequences of their lawyering. In response to this ethical decline, various scholars are now suggesting that lawyers “move beyond this ethical suspension” to a place where one’s personal ethical principles take precedence. Others argue that law schools should take responsibility for the ethical development of their students by improving their legal ethics instruction. Or perhaps “law schools have a duty to morally educate their students” because of the important and consequential situations in which lawyers find themselves each day.


In education we must take the whole human being into consideration, the growing, living human being, and not just an abstract idea of man.”

–Rudolf Steiner, founder of Waldorf Education


The resolution may hinge on a “renewed, fresh emphasis on educating attorneys and law students about the importance of integrating their personal morality and their professional role.” Should legal instruction help law students determine their core values and develop their personal moral compass before they are amidst the pressures of law practice? One commentator frames the issue as follows: “Only if legal education recognizes that lawyering includes an acknowledgement of personal beliefs, even if this reflection is simply cursory, will lawyers be more human.” If we agree that law schools bear a responsibility to help create “ethical” attorneys (or at least that law schools should begin a discussion of how personal beliefs and values contribute to good lawyering), then, how do we go about it?


If law schools want to create professional and ethical lawyers, law schools need to integrate ethics and personal values within the traditional law school curriculum. Waldorf Education, a progressive educational methodology, can serve as a model for this integration. This Article first defines and explores the basic principles of Waldorf Education, and then examines in Part II how the principles of Waldorf Education apply equally to legal education. Part III discusses various practical suggestions as to how this integration can occur. In Part IV, I argue that ultimately, each individual student must take personal responsibility for his or her own ethical and moral development. Finally, the article concludes that if law schools integrate academics, professionalism and personal values within its curriculum, it can go a long way towards producing ethical and successful lawyers.



A. The Education Crisis

As my son reached kindergarten-age, I was inspired by a trend in early childhood education that moved away from traditional teaching methodologies to a more holistic approach to educating children. In the traditional educational system, students sit at desks to learn math and science; reading instruction begins in kindergarten or earlier. The focus of the curriculum is almost solely on academics. Nowadays, it is not uncommon for kindergartners to trade “naps” for homework. The push for academic excellence has eroded the very basic notion of what it means to be a child. Personally, I found it troubling that early childhood education was no longer grounded in an understanding of how children learn.

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