The Future of Legal Professionalism in Practice

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How do lawyers think about, and how do they actually make, the decisions that are at the heart of their day-to-day work? Some argue that the most powerful influences on lawyers'decisions are law school socialisation and formal codes of professional responsibility. Others assert that lawyers'choices, like those of other professionals, are determined largely by their own material interests or those of their employers or clients, though they may be rationalised by reference to professional norms.

This article joins this debate, which thus far has been primarily focused on the organisation and ideology of the American legal profession as a whole, and has paid less attention to the everyday practice of law. This article approaches the issues by selecting one area of legal work—divorce law—and examining the descriptions provided by individual divorce lawyers of their routine decisions.The view expressed by the authors is that lawyers'work decisions are not produced solely or primarily by either abstract professional ideals or narrow economic interests. Rather, they result from complex interactions involving personal values, preferences and identities; formal and informal norms of groups of professional colleagues; local legal rules and institutions; the demands of work itself; and specific workplace and client characteristics—with the particular mix of ingredients varying from lawyer to lawyer. In the course of the article particular emphasis is placed on the so called“collegial influence”—the impact on decision-making of the multiple and sometimes overlapping“communities of practice”to which most lawyers belong.

Keywords: Collegial Influence; Dual Representation; Professional ideology; adversariness; advocacy; divorce law; divorce lawyers; professional responsibility

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 1999

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  • Legal Ethics is an international and interdisciplinary journal devoted to the field of legal ethics.
    The journal provides an intellectual meeting ground for academic lawyers, practitioners and policy-makers to debate developments shaping the ethics of law and its practice at the micro and macro levels.
    Its focus is broad enough to encompass empirical research on the ethics and conduct of the legal professions and judiciary, studies of legal ethics education and moral development, ethics development in contemporary professional practice, the ethical responsibilities of law schools, professional bodies and government, and jurisprudential or wider philosophical reflections on law as an ethical system and on the moral obligations of individual lawyers.
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