Trust and the Global Law Firm: Are Relationships of Trust Still Central to the Corporate Legal Services Market?
Robert K. Vischer
University of St. Thomas, St. Paul/Minneapolis, MN - School of Law
U of St. Thomas Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10-19
This article explores the concept of trust as it relates to the lawyer’s role and explains how recent trends in the structure, operation, and regulation of law firms may make the traditionally “thick” type of attorney-client trust more elusive, particularly in the context of corporate legal practice. Trust may lose its place as a defining element of the attorney-client relationship as the relationship itself becomes less personal, more distant, and more fungible. At the same time, trust may become even more important to consumers in a globalized economy, thereby giving lawyers an opportunity to reassert their value against increasing competition from providers from other jurisdictions and disciplines. In this regard, the article draws an important distinction between cognitive and affective forms of trust, and suggests that attorney-client trust cannot be captured fully in the language of cost-benefit calculation, for the lawyer’s role presumes a relationship of willingly encountered vulnerability. The story of trust’s marginalization in corporate legal practice may resonate most powerfully with lawyers themselves, who may increasingly struggle to find meaning in their work, and with clients, who may discover that technicians work efficiently until a problem calls for counsel that is not strictly technical. More broadly, though, the story of trust’s marginalization should be of interest to a society that has long empowered attorneys to function as quasi-public actors, for the weakening of trust directly compromises the attorney’s capacity and inclination to introduce public values into the representation. After analyzing the market and regulatory trends exerting pressure on a more relationship-centered type of trust, the article offers some tentative suggestions on how the profession can keep relational trust at the center of the lawyer’s role, even in a globalized, efficiency-driven profession.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 43
Keywords: legal profession, professional responsibility, legal ethics, law firms, global law firms, lawyer's role, professional role
Date posted: August 29, 2010