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Joseph Graziano ’23 J.D. wins Smith-Doheny Legal Ethics Writing Competition

Joseph Graziano, a member of Notre Dame Law School’s Class of 2023, is the winner of this year’s Smith-Doheny Legal Ethics Writing Competition.
Joseph Graziano ’23 J.D.

Joseph Graziano, a member of Notre Dame Law School’s Class of 2023, is the winner of this year’s Smith-Doheny Legal Ethics Writing Competition.

Graziano’s paper, “The Virtue Model of Legal Ethics,” analyzed the ethical underpinnings of the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

He explains that the Model Rules contain representations of three approaches to ethical reasoning: virtue ethics, imperative ethics, and casuistic ethics. The preamble and scope present a virtue-based vision of the moral lawyer, while the Rules themselves read like a set of imperatives that draw clear boundaries between what is and is not permissible. Meanwhile, the MPRE presents casuistic examples for the lawyer’s consideration.

In his paper, Graziano suggests restructuring ethical training by using the virtues reflected in the preamble and scope of the Model Rules as a foundation.

“Education in legal ethics often consists of reading rules and cases of lawyers whose actions were objectively deplorable, but who yet never quite violated a rule. If the goal of legal ethics is to make lawyers moral, the means currently used falls short,” he writes. “A merely legalistic approach trains lawyers how to get away with questionable but technically ethical action rather than how to behave ethically.”

Richard W. Garnett, the Paul J. Schierl/Fort Howard Corp. Professor of Law, was a reader for the Smith-Doheny Legal Ethics Writing Competition this year.

“It is a pleasure for Notre Dame Law School to honor Joseph’s thoughtful paper,” Garnett said. “Notre Dame has long been a leader, in keeping with our Catholic mission and character, in legal ethics, led by great scholars like Robert Rodes and Tom Shaffer.”

As a third-year law student, Graziano was involved at Notre Dame Law School as chair of the Honor Council, president emeritus of the St. Thomas More Society, senior articles and symposium editor of the Notre Dame Law Review, and scholarship coordinator of the Federalist Society. He was also a Sorin Fellow of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture and a student fellow of Notre Dame Law School’s Religious Liberty Initiative.

He spent the summer after his first year of law school as a legal intern with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and as research assistant to Notre Dame Law Professor Paolo Carozza. He spent the following summer as a summer associate at Kirkland & Ellis in New York. His next stop will be a clerkship with Judge Stephanos Bibas of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

The Smith-Doheny Legal Ethics Writing Competition is an annual contest, first started in 1997, that looks for the best papers on legal ethics among U.S. and Canadian law students. Selections are made through a blind review process and winners receive a $2,500 cash prize.

Originally published by Kevin Allen at on June 05, 2023.

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