Muller (left) and Brown at the memorial at Track 17 of the Grunewald train station in Berlin.
Among the most memorable images Andrew Brown ’13 recalls from his recent fellowship is the Grunewald Track 17 memorial in Berlin, a Nazi deportation site with dates and destinations for each person who left from there.
“I was shocked by the sheer breadth and exacting precision of the documentation. Considering the scale of destruction in WWII, the fact that we still know information to this detail today is a profound testament to the massive logistical effort facilitated by thousands of government employees, many of them lawyers,” says Brown, a participant in the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics (FASPE) program.
Perhaps no other experience could have underscored more the importance of legal ethics for Brown, who participated this summer in the program, run by the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. Eric Muller, Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professor in Jurisprudence and Ethics at UNC School of Law, is an instructor in the law track of FASPE, which includes graduate students in several disciplines from different schools.
“Studying the role that government lawyers and low-level bureaucrats played in perpetrating the Holocaust reaffirms the immense importance of always thinking about ethics, especially in the mundane and seemingly small day-to-day matters,” Brown says.
The law curriculum examines why Nazi judges and lawyers were involved, presents hypothetical ethical issues that attorneys might experience now, and explores how they can avoid unethical practices. In addition to Berlin, students tour Krakow, the Auschwitz I and Birkenau camps, and Nuremberg.
For some students, the experience challenges pre-conceived beliefs. “They’re surprised to learn how pervasive the involvement was of law and lawyers in the Nazi repression and extermination of Jews. They’re surprised to learn about people who defied the regime, resigned their positions, or otherwise refused to collaborate with repression without themselves being killed or punished. I think they’re prompted to feel, in a unique way, the power that lawyers have, and they develop a much more acute ethical sensitivity than they get in a law school classroom,” Muller says.
Making the trip three times has moved Muller to some conclusions.
“We focus too much in American legal education on comforting stories about good lawyers fighting injustice, and not enough on the uncomfortable stories about lawyers who’ve gone astray, or have used their professional energies to support or defend injustice,” he says. “Some law students crave an educational experience that pushes beyond the development of skill at making arguments and encourages examination of how to form a professional identity.”
Brown is such a student.
“The critical takeaway for me is the importance of connecting minimum standards of professional conduct and ethics to larger normative considerations of justice, goodness and truth,” he says. “The modern approach to American legal ethics often seems to outsource ethical considerations to the drafters of the Model Rules. As a result, legal ethics begins to resemble statutory interpretation, wherein lawyers can push the envelope and then rely on their ability to advocate around the edges of the rules if called to account. FASPE’s primary lesson for me was the importance of placing greater emphasis on the aspirational questions of ‘ought.’”
Aside from legal ethics, Muller has a powerful personal connection to the program. His father was a refugee from the Holocaust, and his great-uncle died in a camp.
“I believe my uncle would be proud to know I am commemorating his life and death by helping new generations of lawyers reflect on their own moral formation,” Muller says.
-July 31, 2013