About This Finding Aid
This digital finding aid brings together oral histories of University of North Carolina School of Law alumni conducted from 1991 through 1998. The description of this project, below, is excerpted from the Sesquicentennial volume of the North Carolina Law Review in an article by Walter H. Bennett, Jr. and Judith Welch Wegner, Lawyers Talking: UNC Law Graduates and Their Service to the State, 73 N.C. L. Rev. 846, 850-51 (1995).
In 1992, Professor Bennett and Dean Wegner decided to try a nontraditional approach to teaching law students about the values of the profession. After consulting with other members of the law faculty and with UNC faculty members in the Department of History, Professor Bennett developed a seminar in the “Oral History of Lawyers and Judges….”
The seminar began with three basic goals: to expose students first-hand to the lives and work of lawyers and judges; to engage students in the real-life ethical and moral dilemmas of working lawyers and judges as told by them; and to gather and store professional history and the life stories of members of the profession in North Carolina…. The interviews themselves and the process of synthesis and critique that occurred afterward forced students to look at their future in moral terms and engaged them in a deep examination of the nature of the profession, their own reasons for becoming lawyers, and their own moral stance vis-a-vis the person they interviewed. Frequently the experience for the student was inspirational and invigorating in terms of career and life purpose. In every case, it was cause for serious reflection.
We believe that the key to this success is the intergenerational connection in the oral history interview between the interviewing student and the practicing or retired lawyer or judge. In that setting, where the professional tells his or her life story, discusses parents, ancestors and mentors, and relates hopes, aspirations and failures, issues of personal morality and professional values naturally arise. Interviewees discuss where they learned their values, what moral and ethical qualities lawyers should possess, and the reasons for the decline in ethical standards in the profession. It is almost impossible for a student who takes his or her life and career seriously to see and hear these matters discussed by a member of the profession without engaging those issues personally.