Responsibility-Rights in the Legal Profession

17 Pages Posted: 20 Jan 2012

See all articles by Deborah Jones Merritt

Deborah Jones Merritt

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law

Daniel C. Merritt


Date Written: January 19, 2012


Professor Jeremy Waldron has proposed a new category of rights named “responsibility-rights.” Society grants these rights to facilitate the performance of responsibilities; continued exercise of the right, therefore, may depend upon full discharge of the responsibilities. In this invited essay, we apply Professor Waldron’s concept of responsibility-rights to the protected status of lawyers. United States lawyers possess a host of special rights, we argue, because society expects them to discharge accompanying responsibilities. Those responsibilities reach far beyond duties to individual clients; they include a responsibility to maintain a legal system that adequately serves society’s needs. Delivering that system requires lawyers to design education, bar admission, professional responsibility, and business systems that meet society’s needs — rather than ones that satisfy the interests of lawyers. If the legal profession does not meet this responsibility, it will forfeit its special rights. Client dissatisfaction and outsourcing of legal work suggest that this process is already under way.

Keywords: Professional Responsibility, Ethics, Legal Profession, Rights, Duties

JEL Classification: K10, K19, K2, K39, K40

Suggested Citation

Merritt, Deborah Jones and Merritt, Daniel C., Responsibility-Rights in the Legal Profession (January 19, 2012). Ohio State Public Law Working Paper No. 164, Available at SSRN: or

Deborah Jones Merritt (Contact Author)

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law ( email )

55 West 12th Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
United States
614-247-7933 (Phone)
614-292-4868 (Fax)

Daniel C. Merritt

Independent ( email )

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