Precarious Professionalism -- Some Empirical and Behavioural Perspectives on Lawyers

38 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2014 Last revised: 15 Apr 2014

See all articles by Richard Moorhead

Richard Moorhead

Centre for Ethics and Law, Faculty of Laws, UCL London; Exeter Law School

Date Written: March 6, 2014

Abstract

This paper adapts the normative claims of professions and Abbott's ecological theory of professions to argue that legal professionalism is precarious in four particular ways. Evidence from socio-legal and behavioural studies questions claims to: 1. superior competence; 2. superior ethicality; 3. superior leadership (state-of-the-art-ness); and, 4. superior regulatory practice.

The paper argues that greater reflexive engagement in the problems of professionalism and institutional development of ethicality is required. The evidence on competence does not suggest that where legal professions compete with non-lawyers their competence is superior . Similarly, evidence on ethicality suggests not only that lawyers may not be superior to 'mere business' but that elements of the professions 'client first' 'business focused' model are likely to be detrimental to ethicality. Both behavioural research and case studies of recent ethical problems manifest in large London-based law firms support the view that these detriments have manifested themselves. New providers of legal services are beginning to challenge the claims of elite firms to provide state of the art legal services. Finally, the value of regulatory techniques as employed by professions and latterly professional regulators, in the context of the Legal Services Act, have not demonstrated their value.

Keywords: Professionalism, Lawyers, Ethics, Professional Competence, Quality, Legal Services Regulation

JEL Classification: J44

Suggested Citation

Moorhead, Richard Lewis and Moorhead, Richard Lewis, Precarious Professionalism -- Some Empirical and Behavioural Perspectives on Lawyers (March 6, 2014). HLS Program on the Legal Profession Research Paper No. 2014-17, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2407370 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2407370

Richard Lewis Moorhead (Contact Author)

Exeter Law School ( email )

University of Exeter
Exeter, Devon EX4 4RJ
United Kingdom

Centre for Ethics and Law, Faculty of Laws, UCL London ( email )

Gower St
London WC1E OEG, WC1E 6BT
United Kingdom

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