Being Good Lawyers: A Relational Approach to Law Practice

49 Pages Posted: 19 Sep 2016

See all articles by Eli Wald

Eli Wald

University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Russell G. Pearce

Fordham University School of Law

Date Written: September 19, 2016


In response to past generations of debates regarding whether law is a business or profession, we advance an alternative approach that rejects the dichotomies of business and profession, or hired gun and wise counselor. Instead, we propose a relational account of law practice. Unlike frameworks grounded in assumptions of atomistic individualism or communitarianism, a relational perspective recognizes that all actors, whether individuals or organizations, have separate identities yet are intrinsically inter-connected and cannot maximize their own good in isolation. Through the lens of relational self-interest, maximizing the good of the individual or business requires consideration of the good of the neighbor, the employee or customer, and of the public. Accordingly, relational lawyers advise and assist clients, colleagues, and themselves to take into account the well-being of others when contemplating and pursuing their own interests.

A relational approach to law practice does not require a choice between labeling law a business or a profession, and indeed is consistent with both perspectives. Lawyers can access relational perspectives from a wide range of understandings of the lawyer’s role, with the exception of the particular hired gun ideology that views lawyers as amoral mouthpieces for clients who act as Holmesian bad men and women aggressively pursuing their self-interest with no regard to others. The relational framework offers all lawyers, whether they see themselves as professionals or business persons, a framework for understanding that they can continue to serve as society’s civic teachers in their capacity as intermediaries between the people and the law, integrating relational self-interest into their representation of clients and their community service. By doing so, lawyers as professionals, individuals, and community members will more effectively represent clients, as well as enhance their contribution to the public good and to the quality of their own professional and private lives. They will also surmount the generation-long malaise resulting from the crisis of professionalism.

Suggested Citation

Wald, Eli and Pearce, Russell G., Being Good Lawyers: A Relational Approach to Law Practice (September 19, 2016). 29 Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics 601 (2016), U Denver Legal Studies Research Paper No. 16-30, Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2840886, Available at SSRN:

Eli Wald (Contact Author)

University of Denver Sturm College of Law ( email )

2255 E. Evans Avenue
Denver, CO 80208
United States


Russell G. Pearce

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

140 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States
212-636-6834 (Phone)
212-636-6899 (Fax)

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