Trapped in the Law: Legal Actors' Attitudes Toward Legal Practice as a Solution for Social Problems
University of California, Hastings College of the Law
May 9, 2007
Courtroom dynamics literature has studied the interactions within the 'courtroom workgroup' - prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges, attributing legal practices in the courtroom to the effects of power struggles and professional interest conflicts between the actors. This paper reintroduces into the picture the important factor of formal law and legal indoctrination, claiming that much of the actors' opinions and behaviors can be attributed to their inability to introduce external perceptions of the problems they address into the legal framework within which they operate. The paper is based on 40 in-depth interviews with prosecutors, defense attorneys and ex-judges in the Israeli military justice system about cases involving disobedience to military service - desertion, unauthorized absences and conscientious objection. The interviews reveal the overpowering effect of legal indoctrination on the perception of these problems and their solutions. Almost all interviewees use the doctrinal legal categorization as the main definition of the problems they deal with, despite their understanding of the political and socio-economic dimensions of the problems. Their policy suggestions are equally limited. Almost all interviewees perceive a tension between their perception and the broader, social definitions of the problem, and have different ways of resolving it: loyalism, bureaucratic thinking, idealism, cynicism and limited innovation. The findings shed light on the impact of legal communications and disciplinary discourse on individual perceptions, and support the usage of discursive theory - focusing on Luhmann and Teubner's autopoiesis - as a strong explanation of professional behavior and interaction, even at the individual level.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 46
Keywords: courts, legal actors, lawyers, social problems, systems, system theory, cognitive dissonance, courtroom dynamics, criminal justice, military law, Israel
JEL Classification: K14, K41, K4
Date posted: May 10, 2007