Precarious Professionalism: Some Empirical and Behavioural Perspectives on Lawyers

This article adopts the normative claims of professions and Abbott’s ecological theory of professions to argue that legal professionalism is precarious in four particular ways. Evidence from socio-legal and behavioural studies questions claims to: (1) superior competence; (2) superior ethicality; (3) superior leadership (state-of-the-art-ness); and (4) superior regulatory practice. The article argues that greater reflexive engagement in the problems of professionalism and institutional development of ethicality is required. The evidence on competence does not suggest that where legal professions compete with non-lawyers their competence is superior. Similarly, evidence on ethicality suggests not only that lawyers may not be superior to ‘mere business’ but that elements of the professions ‘client first’ ‘business focused’ model are likely to be detrimental to ethicality. Both behavioural research and case studies of recent ethical problems manifest in large London-based law firms support the view that these detriments have manifested themselves. New providers of legal services are beginning to challenge the claims of elite firms to provide state-of-the-art legal services. Finally, regulatory techniques employed by professions and latterly professional regulators are argued not to have demonstrated their value.

via Precarious Professionalism: Some Empirical and Behavioural Perspectives on Lawyers.

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