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Unpublished Paper
Redefining Professionalism
ExpressO (2015)
  • Rebecca Roiphe, New York Law School

REdefining PRofessionalism


Rebecca Roiphe*

Most scholars condemn professionalism as self-serving, anti-competitive rhetoric. This Article argues that professionalism can be a positive and productive way of thinking about lawyers’ work. While it is undoubtedly true that the Bar has used the ideology of the professional role to support self-interested and bigoted causes, professionalism has also served as an important way of developing and marshalling group identity to promote useful ends. The critics of professionalism tend to view it as an ideology, according to which professionals, unlike businessmen, are concerned not with their own financial gain but with the good of their clients and the community as a whole. In exploring one aspect of professionalism – the notion of professional independence – this Article has two goals. The first is to redeem professionalism by reconceiving it as an aspect of group identity, an identity based primarily on lawyers’ work rather than an ideology built on the distinction between law and business. The second goal is to disentangle the positive aspects of professional independence from the self-serving, anticompetitive uses to which it has been put. Once it has been recast as an aspect of group identity, the notion of professional independence (and professionalism as a whole) can survive and help shape the massive changes facing the profession. Contrary to the American Bar Association’s conviction, the main threat to professional independence comes not from increased regulation or new structures for the delivery of legal services, but rather from proposals to segment the profession and legal education in ways that would erode that common identity and mission.

* Professor of Law, New York Law School. Ph.D University of Chicago. J.D. Harvard Law School. I am grateful to Elizabeth Chambliss, Doni Gewirtzman, Bruce Green, Molly Land, Ed Purcell, and Bradley Wendel for their comments on this article. The article benefited from the insights of the participants in the Hofstra Law School Roundtable on Ethics organized by Professor Susan Fortney. I would also like to thank New York Law School for its research support.

  • Legal profession,
  • history,
  • professional independence
Publication Date
February 27, 2015
Citation Information
Rebecca Roiphe. "Redefining Professionalism" ExpressO (2015)
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