Document Type



The article reviews and engages Professor Derrick Bell’s more recent scholarship on the nature of the legal profession and the practice of law – ETHICAL AMBITION: LIVING A LIFE OF MEANING AND WORTH – placing Bell’s work in the broader framework of the entire legal enterprise highlighting its relevance to legal ethics, the ills of the profession and legal training. The article juxtaposes Bell’s more contemporary critique of the legal profession and practice with the observations of Carter G. Woodson in THE MIS-EDUCATION OF THE NEGRO, another African-American educator largely unfamiliar to the broader legal academy. The author proposes that the contextual synchronicity of these two works has the potential to dramatically transform the faces of legal education and legal practice, and encourage honesty in ethics discourse. In the author’s view, Bell and Woodson’s works are revolutionary in scope and provide the justification and the framework for a more self-integrative approach to law practice. Specifically, the article examines the challenges faced by the legal academy and profession in developing ethical and effective lawyers, and offers a platform for a paradigm shift in the practice of law. It then demonstrates how the work of these two African-American intellectuals provides the justification and the framework for what I call a more self-integrative practice of law; and hence, a partial answer to the ills of the profession and shortcomings of legal education. Thus, Bell’s and Woodson’s work merely serves as a springboard for the proposed paradigm shift in the practice of law and confronting ethical and professional dilemmas. Additionally, the inquiry of this article deserves renewed interest in light of the Carnegie Report – Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law (2007), which supports my view of the centrality of the holistic development of lawyers to promoting ideals of justice and value-laden decision making towards professional formation. The article begins with a summary of Bell’s and Woodson’s works and demonstrates the connections between them in the context of humanizing the study and practice of law. The author then addresses some of the practical constraints of implementing a self-integrative perspective into law school curricula and legal practice, and attempts to respond to some of the more poignant questions regarding the recommended paradigm. The article concludes by highlighting the tremendous benefits to be realized if one acknowledges Woodson’s insights and utilizes Bell’s principles as beacons to creating a new framework for training lawyers and engaging in the ethical practice of law.