What's Love Got to Do with Lawyers? Thoughts on Relationality, Love, and Lawyers’ Work
17 Legal Ethics (2014)
20 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2014
Date Written: August 28, 2014
In a new and provocative book, Rob Vischer has challenged the neutral partisan conception of the lawyer and the legal profession’s reductive presumption that all clients wish to pursue atomistic self-interest irrespective of the consequences to others. Vischer’s use of the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr. and of Christian theology as a foundation for an alternative, and richly relational, account of law practice is both inspiring and effective.
To debunk the presumption that clients seek narrow self-interest, which the book argues is a powerful component of the neutral partisan conception, Vischer compellingly asserts that clients are relational beings often interested in pursuing objectives that take into account the impact of their conduct on other parties and the community. The book’s main contribution is its development of a practical relational account of law practice pursuant to which lawyers can both represent clients loyally and follow a relational ethic. Based on Dr. King’s teachings regarding human dignity, agape, personalism, justice and Christian realism, Vischer puts forward a vision of law practice that calls upon lawyers to treat clients and themselves as subjects in a partnership and to offer counseling to clients that does not shy away from engaging the hard moral dimensions of the clients’ conduct.
The book’s relational framework could gain even greater traction if it offered reasons for practicing relationally not embedded in Christian theology. For example, Vischer’s anthroreligious belief that we are all created as relational human beings leads him to indicate that if institutional, competitive and ideological barriers to relational practice were removed, lawyers and clients would inevitably act more relationally. The cultural dominance of atomistic individualism, however, suggests that even with barriers removed, lawyers and clients will need some additional persuasion before adopting relational perspectives. Similarly, the book’s grounding of relationality in agapic love neglects the potential application of more open-textured concepts, such as mutual benefit, that might conceivably appeal more broadly to lawyers who do not share Vischer’s theological convictions.
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