UCL Faculty of Laws


The Ethical Identity of Students

Lead author: Richard Moorhead

1 January 2017

Publication details 

Richard Moorhead, Catrina Denvir, Rachel Cahill-O’Callaghan, Maryam Kouchaki & Stephen Galoob (2016): The ethical identity of law students, International Journal of the Legal Profession, DOI: 10.1080/09695958.2016.1231462

  • Published in the International Journal of the Legal Profession, October 2016.


This paper uses measures of values, moral outlook and professional identity to explore the ethical and professional identity of law students. We do so in two jurisdictions, surveying 441 students studying in England and Wales and 569 students studying in the US.

The survey covers the first and final years of an undergraduate law degree and the postgraduate vocational stage in England and Wales, as well as students in all years of the JD programme in the US. We explore whether law students towards the end of their legal education have ethical identities predictive of less ethical conduct than those at the beginning of their legal education; whether law students intending careers in business law have values and profiles consistent with less ethical conduct than those intending to work for government or individuals; and what factors might explain these differences in ethical outlook. Our findings suggest that ethical identity is strongly associated with gender and career intentions. They also suggest weaker moral identities for students intending to practise business law.

Ultimately, our findings support a conclusion that is more nuanced than the predominant theses about the impact of legal education on student ethicality which tend to suggest legal education diminishes ethicality.

About the lead author

  • Professor Richard Moorhead is Professor of Law and Professional Ethics and Vice Dean (Research) at UCL Laws and the UCL Centre for Ethics and Laws.

Read the paper