Creating a Client Consortium: Building Social Capital, Bridging Structural Holes

Clinical Law Review, Vol. 13, p. 67, 2006

49 Pages Posted: 27 Jan 2012

See all articles by Susan D. Bennett

Susan D. Bennett

American University, Washington College of Law

Date Written: 2006


This article asks whether, ethically and practically, community lawyers can enhance the representation they provide to their individual community-based organizational clients by representing them collectively. Too often isolated from critical resources, community clients can move their agendas for economic and social justice only so far when they and their lawyer act alone. These clients need to build connections to other groups in the community, actors whom the lawyer may also represent, as well as to influential players who operate in distant financial and political arenas. Arguably the most effective representation a lawyer could provide to any one client would be to link it with other group clients with complementary strengths and needs. The resulting Community Client Consortium would operate as a forum and framework within which those clients could allocate their resources according to their sense of mission - one of those resources being that of their shared lawyer's representation. The article uses the device of a Community Client Retainer, an agreement which each new organizational client may choose to sign, and which obligates the client to engage in a process of collective decision-making among all the members of the Client Consortium about goals and resources. The article asks whether lawyers can within the bounds of honoring client autonomy require this kind of collective decision-making, perhaps at perceived cost to any one client’s individual institutional advantage.

Ethics rules that focus on the inviolability of the dyadic lawyer-client relationship provide only ambiguous guidance to the community lawyer if she attempts to leverage the strengths of community-based organizations by representing them in collaboration with each other. The article addresses how the Model Rules of Professional Conduct and the jurisprudence of entity representation have evolved to accommodate, or continue to frustrate, concerns about conflicts of interest and breaches of confidentiality in multiple representation. The article concludes by reviewing the sociology of neighboring, which includes social capital and network theories, and which confirms that organizations are best served individually when they operate collectively. The article then recommends that the community lawyer use her position by acting within network theory as a manager of structural holes, someone who serves as a critical point of contact among disconnected people.

Keywords: community organizations, community development, multiple representation, social networks

Suggested Citation

Bennett, Susan D., Creating a Client Consortium: Building Social Capital, Bridging Structural Holes (2006). Clinical Law Review, Vol. 13, p. 67, 2006 , Available at SSRN:

Susan D. Bennett (Contact Author)

American University, Washington College of Law ( email )

4300 Nebraska Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

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