The Fracturing Legal Profession: The Case of Plaintiffs' Personal Injury Lawyers
Posted: 18 Jun 2001
The core argument of this paper is the structure of the plaintiffs' bar in the U.S. and England has changed or is changing in very significant ways. In the U.S., the shift in interests reflects in significant part the development of massive litigation, epitomized by the ongoing litigation in the U.S. against the tobacco companies. In England, changes are being driven by the increasing role of conditional fees as a means of funding personal sector litigation. The result is that scholars need to begin looking anew at the conflicts and cleavages within what is commonly (in the U.S.) termed the "plaintiffs' bar."
While much of the lay public sees the legal profession as a single group, members of the profession and scholars have long recognized the disparate backgrounds, interests, and politics of various segments of the legal community. While some aspects of these differences are highly visible in England due to the formal divisions between solicitors and barristers, this only begins to capture the lines of cleavage within the profession. In the United States, scholars have devoted substantial attention to stratification within the legal profession, along with the various segments represented by key dimensions of stratification.
One segment of the profession that has generally been viewed as representing a common set of interests and perspectives is that group that specializes in representing injured persons. In the United States this group is commonly referred to as the "plaintiffs' bar"; nationally, its interests are represented by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA). While this group has long been recognized as distinct in the U.S., it has only recently been so recognized in England where the rough equivalent of ATLA is the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL).
After an introductory discussion, the core of this paper covers four interrelated themes: a discussion of traditional lines of cleavage and stratification within the legal profession; a review of research showing how those lines of cleavage have evolved over the last several decades; a discussion of how massive litigation in the U.S. has fractured the apparent unity of the plaintiffs' bar, including consideration of points of potential conflict; and a discussion of changes that have been occurring in the personal services sector of the solicitors' profession in England as a result of the adoption of conditional.
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