The Once and Future Profession: Autonomy, Intellectualism, and Obligation

29 Pages Posted: 30 Jul 2016

See all articles by Jon Garon

Jon Garon

Shepard Broad College of Law

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Date Written: July 20, 2016


There are three critical elements that define the modern legal profession: autonomy, intellectualism, and obligation. The first of these elements is the personal autonomy that should protect the professional in her role as independent counselor, guide, and confidant. Autonomy has eroded due to increased billing expectations, commoditization of practice, efficiencies of technology, and decreased investment in lawyer training. Other industries, such as those in the technology industries have improved employee autonomy even as law has regressed. Intellectualism, the second element, reflected the critical intellectual role that lawyers once played as thought leaders. Unfortunately, a systemic attack on intellectualism which began during the McCarthy hearings has continued with ever-greater impact, stripping public figures and civic leaders of their roles as public intellectuals who supported a civil society through their insights and rigorous debate. The third element is the professional obligation to uphold justice, a concept that is perhaps the most discussed and whose absence has been noted for centuries. As law schools look to shape the next generation of lawyers, they must reinvigorate these three attributes and establish a new legal profession committed to them. The vehicle is a new legal services approach that funds law students’ tuition in exchange for years of moderate-pay legal service. The article outlines the case for a restructuring of legal services for the poor and middle class, to help close the justice gap, assure meaningful representation for both criminal and civil justice needs, and through this training, restore the attributes of autonomy, intellectualism, and obligation to the profession. Through this approach, participating students will receive free legal education in exchange for participating in a Peace Corps modeled program that provides legal services to those with demonstrated need.

Keywords: legal profession, autonomy, intellectualism, obligation, billing, billable hour, commoditization of law practice, technology, law school, lawyer training, legal education, McCarthy, legal services, Peace Corps, tuition, debt, service, civil, criminal, Gideon, LSC, experiential

JEL Classification: A23, B50, D63, D73, K2, K4, K20, K42, L2, L22, L31, L38, M52, P11, P36

Suggested Citation

Garon, Jon M., The Once and Future Profession: Autonomy, Intellectualism, and Obligation (July 20, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

Jon M. Garon (Contact Author)

Shepard Broad College of Law ( email )

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Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33314
United States

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