Relevance of Professionalism in a Post-Legal Services Act World

Friday, December 19th, 2014 at 19:09

 

(thanks to wallyconger.com)
 


I’ve always admired “Duke” (or Hunter S Thompson as he’s known in the mundane world). For anyone who could consume the amount of drugs he did and yet write as brilliantly as he could must be professional.

I have written a post for the legal profession section of Jotwell on Nick Robinson’s paper, When Lawyers Don’t Get All the Profits: Non-Lawyer Ownership of Legal Services, Access, and Professionalism (Harvard Law School Program Legal Profession Research Paper No. 2014-20) available at SSRN.

He raises some serious questions during his comparison of non-lawyer ownership in three countries: UK, Australia, and the US. I’ve tried to give this a sociological gloss in my review. It’s a good paper and should be read widely.

 

 

The Sociology of the Professions: Lawyers, Doctors and Others…redux

Thursday, December 4th, 2014 at 15:11


(thanks to kardsunlimited)


Years ago, as a naive graduate student at Warwick, I was invited to a conference on lawyers, doctors and others at Oxford. Philip Lewis organised it. What I loved about the conference was that all my heroes in the sociology of the professions and lawyers were there–Eliot Freidson, Terry Johnson, Marc Galanter, Dietrich Rueschemeyer, and Maureen Cain, plus more. These were the people whose work I was reading and using to guide my own research.

The resulting book was published in 1983 and became an essential text for anybody researching in the field of professions. It still is an essential text, losing none of its force and acuity. Unfortunately the book went out of print.

But I’m glad to say that The Sociology of Professions: Lawyers, Doctors and Others, edited by Robert Dingwall and Philip Lewis has been reissued by Quid Pro Books. The publisher has commissioned a new foreword to this edition by Sida Liu of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Sida Liu writes:

“it is a rare effort to fully compare the two classic cases of doctors and lawyers in the professions literature. The contributors of the book include a number of prominent authors on the professions in Britain and the United States. Until today, it remains a vitally important volume for scholars and students interested in various aspects of professional life…Looking back one must be struck by the extent to which theorists of professions and empirical researchers on doctors and lawyers from both the UK and US fully engage with one another throughout the book.”

I’m glad to see this book back. It has so much to tell us. I was thinking about it as I addressed a graduating class of law students today at UCD. It would have been great to have been able to give each of them a copy.

 

 

Dress Casual…But for Lawyers?

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 at 16:22

 

I was asked to speak at a roundtable on lawyers and careers at StudentSlingshot. The event was arranged by the indefatigable Patrick Guiney of UCD Smurfit Business School. It brought students from all around Ireland to Dublin Castle to meet and talk with entrepreneurs, techies, business people and, of course, lawyers.

The invitation said clearly “Dress casual”. So guess who were the only people wearing business suits? Yes, the lawyers. Both men and women.

Given that there were many tech people at the StudentSlingshot–after all both Google and Facebook have their European headquarters here–I thought it would be useful for the students to know something about the influence of technology in law and the role played by legal tech startups. (By the way I wasn’t wearing a suit.) During my talk I said something about the use of boilerplate documents by law firms (implicitly referring to Gulati’s work on pari passu).

A managing partner of a sizeable Dublin law firm, sitting next to me, exploded. They never used such things and it was tantamount to heresy to suggest otherwise. I referred to research on this saying that bespoke legal work is very expensive and not all clients need it. She refused to accept this.

A barrister then talked about becoming a barrister in Dublin. I was reminded of the UK situation years ago. He said it was normal for an aspiring barrister to wait years before earning any money, let alone a living wage.

I have been travelling in a time machine here and I can begin to understand why the Troika demanded changes to the profession and its regulation. It creates too many barriers. I hope the legal services reformation bill passes into law soon. The legal profession needs to come into the 21st century.

The evening was great fun though.

What is a lawyer?

Monday, October 27th, 2014 at 19:30
(Thanks to Dilbert.com)

It’s a hoary old question, tired and probably pointless today. Yet Jonathan Goldsmith has asked it again as he works the room at the International Bar Association’s meetings in Tokyo. He tries to answer his question using what we call the “trait” theory of professions. Do you pass exams? Do you have ethical codes? Is the work exclusively yours?

The result is of course equivalent to how long is that string? As long or as short as you’d like. This type of approach doesn’t get you anywhere.

What is particularly noticeable to anyone who studies lawyers, legal professions and professions in general is Goldsmith’s singular lack mention of the types of conditions under which lawyers and professionals work. The organisation whether it be law firm or hospital is now crucial to understanding the nature of professional life and work.

Goldsmith talks about “the lawyer” in the abstract as a myth almost rather than someone engaged in expert labour within an organisational setting. Even that most singular of legal professions, the barrister, is really a creature of the organisation.

The Lawyer today published a report on the UK top 200 law firms with a special section on the top ten chambers. They are listed by chambers earnings and revenue per barristers within each chambers, not by single barristers.

Being a lawyer is another occupation like most. Goldsmith’s thinking is indicative of a desire for a “golden age” of lawyering, which probably never existed–only in misty dreams. He alludes to but tries to avoid the idea that lawyers are no longer exclusive.

Machines, paralegals, technicians, accountants, consultants even are all engaged in the “practice” of law these days. They may not call themselves lawyers but they do law. The new legal services markets now emerging are signs that the distinctiveness of the lawyer is being eroded.

It might mean that lawyers’ skills are redundant. I think this unlikely. Or it could mean that lawyers’ skills are inadequate to the demands of today’s business and legal markets. If they are inadequate then others invade your turf and take your work. So it’s up to the profession(s) and the academy to (re)produce lawyers/professionals fit for the modern age. And don’t worry about definitions. Hardly anyone cares.

(Thanks to Dilbert.com)

 

And on that last point, Law Without Walls is gearing up for its new session next January.

 

Brains, Music and Life…

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014 at 11:36

 

A good friend of mine, Jon Harman, made this video a year ago. I love it. I was reminded of it after reading about President Obama’s new BRAIN Initiative.