Category Archives: Teaching BLE

Teaching Behavioral Legal Ethics: A Blog and Literature Review

As we head into a new semester, I thought it would be a good time to cull from our archives blog posts that are helpful to teaching Behavioral Legal Ethics. Here is my list, with links for those who are interested:

In addition, there is growing scholarship about the pedagogy of Behavioral Legal Ethics. I have started a bibliography, broadening it to include behavioral ethics and psychology/legal education more generally. Here is my initial list (in addition, I would encourage anyone teaching BLE to be familiar with its foundational scholarship, starting with Behavioral Legal Ethics). Please let me know if there are other articles on BLE pedagogy that should be included (I can be reached at Thanks!

Behavioral Legal Ethics:


Summer Fun with Illusions (and a metaphor to boot!)

As August moves slowly toward the beginning of the school year, I find myself thinking about teaching legal ethics in the new semester.  As I discussed in my paper on the subject, when I teach Behavioral Legal Ethics I start by showing my students a few visual illusions, just to get them thinking about the limits of perception. My favorite, which I show in video form, is the Checker Board Illusion. Here it is for those not familiar with it:

As I was tinkering around with Twitter today, I came across another illusion, which is a must see. I have no idea how it works, but that it does is amazing. Here it is (and quite a metaphor for our times, I might add!):



The Technological Future of Behavioral Legal Ethics?

The advent of Virtual Reality (VR), and the more recent exploration of Augmented Reality (AR), is creeping forward in law schools, with only a handful of schools experimenting with the technology, according to a recent article in the ABA Journal. As the article notes, Virtual Reality, for those not familiar with it, “involves the use of computer technology to create a simulated environment, immersing a user in a 3D experience.” Augmented Reality, which has received a lot of media attention since the release of the game Pokémon Go, is largely still in its infancy and, according to one source, refers to technology that “superimposes computer-generated images on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite image.”  Announcements of new releases in the AR field, especially of Microsoft’s Hololens 2, have created excitement about the potential for more interactive immersive experiences for the user in the future.

I have been interested (from afar, as I am no expert) about the use of this technology for law school pedagogy, so it’s gratifying to see that some schools have already started to experiment.  As the ABA Journal notes, for instance, students at University of North Texas Dallas College of Law have used VR technology to stage a 360-degree crime scene.  And the University of Oklahoma has created the Oklahoma Virtual Academic Laboratory “to provide students with technologically advanced immersive education experiences.”

But what about technology and legal ethics? As those of us involved with behavioral legal ethics know, much of our work is about exploring the gap between deliberative consideration of the rules of legal ethics, which dominates much of legal ethics pedagogy, and the ways that people actually make ethical decisions, as demonstrated by the large and growing body of behavioral ethics research. Can VR and AR technology help our students (and lawyers in CLE programs) experience the power of cognitive biases and heuristics, and the social pressures that contribute to unethical behavior, in ways that traditionally have been unavailable in legal education?

Professor Sylvie Delacroix from Birmingham Law School recently posted a co-authored paper (forthcoming in Modernising Legal Education), entitled Virtually Teaching Ethics: Experiencing the Discrepancy between Abstract Ethical Stands and Actual Behaviour using Immersive Virtual Reality, that wonderfully encapsulates this discussion and explores the possibilities of Immersive Virtual Reality (IVR) and similar approaches in the future in ethics education. The first part of her paper reviews the dichotomy between System 1 and System 2 thinking, citing leading researchers on the difference between intentional and unintentional responses to ethical dilemmas:

“It is often assumed that when faced with an ethical dilemma, individuals recognise it for what it is and respond to it intentionally, preferably (in the case of law) by applying the relevant rules of conduct. However, unethical behaviour often arises without intention to act unethically, either because an individual is unaware of the situation or unaware of the contextual influences. These ‘blind spots’ mean that being taught the rules of conduct is unlikely to improve ethicality. Most people routinely fail to recognise the ethical components of decisions and succumb to common cognitive biases; as a result many responses to ethical dilemmas are characterised by ignorance rather than intention” (p. 5-6).

Professor Delacroix then connects these observations to the limitations of current ethics instruction, noting that “[t]he failure of students to see when they are personally prone to ethical blind spots produces a key challenge for ethics education, that of ‘inducing students to act in an ethical manner when faced with real challenges’” (p.9).

Then — and this is what I find most fascinating — Professor Delacroix describes a module that she designed for teaching her legal ethics class of LLM and LLB students, in which the students engaged with IVR to experience a difficult ethical decision in a simulated environment at University College London. As she describes it,

“At an early stage within both modules (week three) students were given the opportunity to experience the CAVE – the highly IVR environment managed by the University’s Computer Science Department. The CAVE projects images in real-time onto the surrounding walls and the floor. Specialised eyewear gives users the illusion of 3D objects appearing within and beyond the walls of the CAVE, whilst a head-tracking unit monitors movement to ensure the images displayed remain in the correct perspective.” (p.12-13).

The ethical dilemma posed in the CAVE involved a variation of the well known Trolley Problem, this time involving an elevator ride in which participants must decide whether to sacrifice one life in order to save five. Students who participated voluntarily in the IVR experience, on the whole, reported it to be positive. Many of the students also noted — and for me this is the key to this type of pedagogy — that their actual reactions during the CAVE experience differed from how they thought they would act when considering the question more theoretically prior to the immersive experience. In other words, the students learned how their anticipated ethics and actual ethics often do no align — the key insight that behavioral ethics has to offer.

Professor Delacroix’s work demonstrates that teaching legal ethics through IVR technology is possible. While there are still obstacles to overcome (the technology still needs to advance and the relative merits and possible downsides of using IVR technology in the classroom need to be considered), we might be seeing in Professor Delacriox’s work the future of ethics education — a future where students will be able to experience and explore the multifaceted, three-dimensional nature of ethical decision-making in real time. An exciting prospect indeed!

Here is the abstract of Professor Delacroix’s article:

The CAVE experience is an immersive virtual reality (IVR) environment employing high- resolution, 3D video and audio technology. Using the CAVE, researchers at University College London designed an IVR scenario intended to echo the logical structure of a traditional ‘trolley scenario’ problem, and deployed this activity within an undergraduate Law and Ethics Course. In this chapter we explore how the use of virtual reality can offer students an unparalleled opportunity to reflect on the dissonance between the behaviour they adopt when faced with an ethical dilemma, and the theoretical stance they propose during class discussion. We explore how this personalisation gives rise to sustained student engagement borne out of a desire to understand the discrepancy between principle and practice. Our chapter considers the potential of IVR technology when teaching ethics to future and current professionals. We conclude by considering how such technology can offer more dynamic opportunities for student reflection and how IVR might be sensibly integrated into a broader legal ethics curriculum.

(update, 8/4/19: For anyone interested in the use of VR to re-consider classic experiments in social psychology, here is a fascinating paper discussing VR and the famous Milgram experiments on obedience.  And here is short blog post in Scientific American about the study).


Promotional Video for Motivating Reasoning and Legal Ethics

Here is the new promotional video for the Practising Law Institute’s interactive video program, Motivated Reasoning and Legal Ethics:

For more details about the program, including how law professors can gain access to use the video free of charge for classroom teaching, see our prior post here.

Ethics Unwrapped, an Invaluable Resource

Ethics Unwrapped, a leader in the field of behavioral ethics education, has updated its core collection of videos, called Concepts Unwrapped. Here is the Twitter announcement:

Links to the individual videos are below.  THANK YOU Ethics Unwrapped for your wonderful work, an essential resource for all of us who teach behavioral ethics!



New Interactive Video on Behavioral Legal Ethics — available free for law professors!

PLIMolly Wilson and I are happy to announce our new online video program by the Practising Law Institute (PLI), a leading provider of continuing legal education. Entitled Motivated Reasoning and Legal Ethics, the video takes an interactive approach to the subject. Highlights include simulated scenarios by professional actors addressing the psychological dimensions of fraught ethical situations, such as law firm billing practices and disclosure requirements by prosecutors. Also included are multimedia discussions of some of the most important scientific studies in behavioral science (i.e., Stanley Milgram’s obedience studies and Hasdorf and Cantril’s famous selective perception study about the 1951 Dartmouth-Princeton football game). Viewers are guided through an interactive environment where they are prompted to respond to the material presented.

Law teachers may find the video program useful to introduce core aspects of behavioral legal ethics in courses such Professional Responsibility and Criminal Procedure.

Here is the PLI description:

Why You Should Attend

This online program will use an interactive, video format to demonstrate how motivated reasoning can lead attorneys to act unethically or remain silent in the face of unethical behavior. Furthermore, it will show how even after these ethical lapses, actors often continue to believe that they have done nothing wrong. The course will explain, in detail, what motivated reasoning is, describe and demonstrate the most common social-cognitive biases that comprise motivated reasoning, and provide strategies to help attorneys overcome these biases, so they behave ethically. The Model Rules of Professional Conduct will be mentioned and referred to at times in discussion, scenarios, and examples.

What You Will Learn 

After completing the course, participants will be able to:

  • Recognize that they are subject to making poor decisions due to motivated reasoning.
  • Recognize that they are subject to behaving unethically without intending to do so.
  • Identify the most common cognitive biases and social influences that contribute to motivated reasoning.
  • Identify common factors that can lead to poor decisions, unethical behaviors, or inaction.
  • Implement strategies to address and overcome the factors that could otherwise lead to poor decisions, unethical behavior, or inaction.
  • Create an environment where an attorney is more likely to follow the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

Who Should Attend

This program will be useful to all attorneys in their practice of the law.

NOTE: The list price for the video program is $395. However, law professors and law students can receive FULL SCHOLARSHIPS by providing proof of academic affiliation (scholarships are also available for others, including judges, law clerks and government and non-profit lawyers). The scholarship application is available here.

(update: 9/24/19:  The scholarship application can now easily be filled out online, making it much easier to gain access to the video).


Behavioral Science One Sheets keeps adding valuable resources to its top-notch website, including to its collection of “Behavioral Science One Sheets”  — short, well-written descriptions of some of the most important aspects of behavioral ethics. The most recent addition is “Motivated Reasoning,” which, as it states (and I agree), is “one of the most important topics” in explaining the behavioral science of ethical decision-making. Here’s a bit more from the One Sheet:
Motivated reasoning affects decision-making in all areas of our lives, but moral decisions are especially vulnerable. Moral decisions are often high-stakes decisions. They also tend to be especially complex, emotional, and intuitive. These characteristics provide the ideal conditions for motivated reasoning to take effect.
The One Sheets series — which now includes Bounded Ethicality, Ethical Fading, Nudging for Ethics, Speak Up Culture, Ethics Pays, Goals Gone Wild and Motivated Reasoning — can be found here.  Produced in conjunction with the Notre Dame Center for Ethical Leadership, the One Sheets are great resources for anyone wanting to get up to speed quickly on these important topics — and as handouts for an ethics class!

Behavioral Legal Ethics and Accurate Science

In my article on teaching behavioral legal ethics, I noted that as teachers we have an obligation to remain atop of the science in the field to make sure that we impart the most accurate and up-to-date scientific understandings to our students. This duty has become all the more important given the debate over what has been called the “replication crisis” — that is, the extensive discussion in the field of psychology (as well as other sciences) about whether the effects in many studies have been overstated or, in some cases, are non-existent. A number of methodological questions have been raised, including whether researchers have engaged in what is referred to as “P-hacking” – that is, manipulation of data to produce effects. This provocative topic was recently discussed in the New York Times Magazine’s cover article, When The Revolution Came for Amy Cuddy.  Even Nobel Award winner Daniel Kahneman (author of Thinking Fast and Slow) has notably weighed in, stating in an open letter that a sub-field of social psychology known as social priming has become “the poster child of doubts about the integrity of psychological research.”  More recent questions about the replicability of psychology research have also emerged.

The challenge for the legal community – at least those of us who do not rely on our own empirical research – is to ensure that we teach our students accurate science. Yet, how does one know whether previously reported studies that have been called into question should still be taught, or what provisos should be provided to students as part of our instruction?

In my professional responsibility class, for instance, in past years I have discussed (on our class blog) money priming, relying on the considerable research that demonstrates that priming people with thoughts of money can increase anti-social behavior. I usually alert my students to these studies and ask them to consider how these results might impact their ethical choices as practicing attorneys, as well as the career choices they plan to make after graduation.

In the last few years, however, there has been a debate about whether the research on money priming is as dependable as has been claimed. One set of researchers, for example, was unable to replicate some of the most well-known studies in the field, leading to questions about whether money priming even occurs. A rejoinder, based on a 10-year review of experiments, posited alternative explanations for the failures of replication, concluding that the vast majority of studies in the field still demonstrate money priming effects.

Given these competing views about the research, what should one do? One approach would be to avoid the entire subject until the dust settles and a new consensus emerges.  I may take this approach next semester when I teach professional responsibility, as money priming is a relatively narrow topic that I teach as a small portion of my overall discussion of behavioral legal ethics. Or I may decide to engage my students in the debate, exposing them to the competing research claims and encouraging them to come to their own conclusions about how to consider the state of the science.

Either way, this example reinforces how essential it is to stay abreast of the science in the fields in which we teach. After all, behavioral legal ethics is only as stable as the science upon which it rests.

New Compliance Video

In an earlier post, I discussed the role that behavioral ethics plays in the compliance field, highlighting the work of Scott Killingsworth, Jeff Kaplan, and others. For those who teach or write in the compliance area, a new video is now available (for commercial licensing) that I highly recommend. Created by Richard Bistrong in conjunction with Mastercard, it explores Mr. Bistrong’s own compelling story. The video is exceptionally well-done and would be a valuable addition to any training or educational program. For the trailer of the video and more details, visit the FCPA Blog.

Behavioral Science and the Duty to Report Misconduct

report-or-silence-switch-277x300Too often ignored, Model Rule 8.3 imposes a mandatory duty to report a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that “raises a substantial question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthy or fitness” to practice law.  When teaching this rule, I discuss many of the behavioral reasons — such as obedience and conformity pressures — that can discourage reporting misconduct, especially by young lawyers early in their careers.  After all, it is not easy for any lawyer, much less a subordinate attorney, to accept the personal and professional risks associated with reporting misconduct by a colleague or superior.

This discussion with my students is enriched when we consider Kelly v. Hutton & Williams, No. 97-CV-5631 (JG), 1999 WL 408416 (E.D.N.Y. June 17, 1999), which is excerpted in the course book that I use. In that case, a young lawyer claimed he was fired for refusing to stay silent in the face of serious over-billing violations by a senior partner at his firm (the case ultimately settled under a confidentiality agreement, so we do not what would have happened at trial. As an interesting aside — the partner accused of over-billing later became a fugitive from justice for running a multi-million dollar ponzi scheme. He was recently arrested after more than two decades on the lam). In discussing the case with my students, we explore some of the reasons why the plaintiff in Hunton & Williams seemingly was able to resist the behavioral pressures to stay silent, including that he acted as part of a group of associates at the firm who together reported the misconduct internally. Another salient point is that the associates obtained advice from an outsider (a federal judge for whom one of them had clerked) before reporting the misconduct. We consider how these factors — acting as part of group and finding a trusted outsider who can act as a sounding board — can help reduce the obedience and conformity pressures that make reporting misconduct so difficult (for more discussion, see pages 775-78 and 800-01 of Insights from Psychology: Teaching Behavioral Legal Ethics as a Core Element of Professional Responsibility).

For those looking for a more recent case that raises similar issues, Joffe v. King & Spalding, just hit the news. According to a complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan, Joffe was wrongfully terminated and denied other benefits after he complained to the firm’s general counsel (and outside counsel) about unethical misbehavior he had observed inside the firm.  Specifically, Joffe claims the firm retaliated against him after he reported that a partner had made false statements and misrepresentations to a federal judge in a pending proceeding. King & Spalding has recently answered the complaint, denying the charges. Interestingly, the legal theory in Joffe’s complaint — that the firm’s retaliatory conduct violates precedent set forth in a 1992 New York Court of Appeals case, Wieder v. Skala — is the same legal theory put forth in Hunton & Williams. It will be interesting to see how the case proceeds (updates to come).