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human rights legal ethics professionalism code of conduct aspiration dignity respect law clinic law office public interest legal aid


The standards regulating the decision-making and behavior of lawyers in the U.S. currently provide inadequate guidance for many of the ethical dilemmas that practicing attorneys face on a daily basis. Universal human rights principles—the concepts of morality underlying much of human rights law—provide more ambitious moral direction that lawyers can use to guide decision-making and behavior. This article discusses why additional aspirational goals are needed for the legal profession and explains how and why to apply universal human rights principles to lawyering in the U.S. The article goes on to introduce the idea of adopting a human rights code of conduct for a public interest law office or law clinic. Included with this article are sample human rights codes of conduct used by a legal aid organization, a human rights organization, and a law clinic, as well as practical suggestions for leading efforts to adopt a human rights code of conduct.