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I Can Has Lawyer? The Conflict Between the Participatory Culture of the Internet and the Legal Profession

Lucy A. Jewel

University of Tennessee College of Law

July 14, 2010

The Internet allows citizens to comment on public affairs with an amplified and unfiltered voice, creating an open, community-based culture where robust debate flourishes. However, many of the ideals and practices of participatory culture clash with the traditional legal culture as it exists in the United States. This cultural conflict can be seen in emerging narratives, in the form of web blogs and lawyer emails that go “viral,” in which lawyers comment on the lack of humanism within big law firm hiring and firing practices; expose the alienating work environments experienced by low-level contract attorneys; or criticize judges who show hostility toward criminal defense attorneys.

From a critical standpoint, these narratives tell the story of a broken legal profession, implicitly arguing that the liberal humanism that the profession supposedly embodies does not apply to all lawyers. These stories are, in effect, structural critiques of the profession. Nonetheless, these missives have the potential to run afoul of ethical rules and professional norms that prohibit attorneys from impugning the integrity of the judiciary and the legal profession. Because these narratives provide a valuable critique of the profession, however, ethical rules or professional norms should not operate to shut these stories down. As the democratic ideals inherent in participatory culture become more deeply embedded in our society, the legal profession should also evolve and embrace a more pluralistic and unconstrained approach toward professionalism.

Part I of this Article describes the characteristics of participatory culture relevant to the legal profession. Part II explores the emerging format of the online lawyer narrative and Part III analyzes the professionalism issues raised by these new narratives.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 35

Keywords: legal profession, ethics, new media, blogging, the Internet, participatory culture

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Date posted: July 16, 2010  

Suggested Citation

Jewel, Lucy A., I Can Has Lawyer? The Conflict Between the Participatory Culture of the Internet and the Legal Profession (July 14, 2010). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1640090 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1640090

Contact Information

Lucille A. Jewel (Contact Author)
University of Tennessee College of Law ( email )
1505 West Cumberland Avenue
Knoxville, TN 37996
United States
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