The question has been posed: is legal practice today a profession? This leads, naturally enough, to another question: should society treat it as one? Using the concept of ‘profession’ in different ways, some argue that one thing modern legal practice needs is a good dose of 'professionalism;' others argue that, whatever once might have been true, treating law practice as a ‘profession’ is a rum game best abandoned.
These questions matter. Law enjoys special regulatory privileges and market protections that make little sense if law has become just another form of business – a specialized form of consulting, perhaps. At the same time, societies depend on professions to perform important public functions, and if a de-professionalized legal occupation either cannot or will not reliably perform those functions, new solutions must be sought. These questions matter particularly now, because technology now allows non-lawyers to offer personalized legal services that rival lawyers, but in the US such services are barred by the protective market shelter given lawyers.
To date, the discussion has been hampered by loose – and often conflicting – uses of the terms profession and professional. To counter that, this article examines law practice and two similarly demanding occupations – teaching law and consulting on search engine optimization – through the lens of a fully developed model of professions developed by sociologist Eliot Freidson. By delving deeper into the aspects of an ideal form profession, with contrast to two somewhat similar occupations, the article provides a more nuanced look at law practice’s claims to professional status.
The residual market protections given to lawyers are one reason to determine whether they still constitute a profession – if they are not able to deliver on the social bargain of protecting the justice system, there seems little reason to exclude potentially innovative competitors from the personalized legal services market. Perhaps more importantly, the analysis raises the question of who, if anyone, is protecting the system of justice from naked market and bureaucratic forces if lawyers have abdicated or been driven from the role. In a world where law has been and can be used to oppress the powerless, and where legal claims have become a tradable asset class, it is not a trivial question.
- unauthorized practice of law,
- regulation of lawyers,
- law as profession,
- legal occupation,
- law practice,
- eliot freidson,
- search engine optimization,
- search engines,
- legal services,
- legal profession,
- law schools,
- law school,
- legal education
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/ray_campbell/5/