Between Rules and Power: Finding a Place for Lawyers in the Sociology of Professions

Lawyers in 21st-Century Societies, Vol. 2, pp.445-460, edited by Richard L. Abel, Ole Hammerslev, Hilary Sommerlad, and Ulrike Schultz. Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2022

University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 2023/15

26 Pages Posted: 17 Feb 2023

See all articles by Sida Liu

Sida Liu

Faculty of Law, The University of Hong Kong

Date Written: April 25, 2022

Abstract

The legal profession’s maintenance of ‘rule-boundedness’ is not a simple choice between order and liberty or between ‘authoritarian or the anti-authoritarian powers’ as Max Weber put it. It is rather a complex and everyday balancing act between the toolkit of rules and the river of power. Rules are lawyers’ most potent technical weapon as well as their heaviest moral burden. They enable lawyers to serve or resist state power, but they also constrain lawyers’ political mobilisation by limiting the scope of individual or collective action. Power, by contrast, is both lawyers’ best friend and bitterest foe. It gives lawyers the capacity to use their legal expertise to mobilise the state on behalf of their clients, but it also poses the constant threat of abuse of rules and proceduralism by the state and its officials. This juxtaposition of rules and power makes the practice of law distinctive among the professions, most of which are not as close as lawyers to rules and power. Recognising this uniqueness offers a new starting point for advancing the sociology of professions, which, since the mid-20th century, has focused far more on the similarities of professions than their differences.

Suggested Citation

Liu, Sida, Between Rules and Power: Finding a Place for Lawyers in the Sociology of Professions (April 25, 2022). Lawyers in 21st-Century Societies, Vol. 2, pp.445-460, edited by Richard L. Abel, Ole Hammerslev, Hilary Sommerlad, and Ulrike Schultz. Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2022, University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 2023/15, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4359286 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4359286

Sida Liu (Contact Author)

Faculty of Law, The University of Hong Kong ( email )

10/F, Cheng Yu Tung Tower
Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Hong Kong
China

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