Thursday, December 31, 2009

The End of the Tournament? The Re-Organization and Re-Professionalization of Large Law Firms in the 21st Century

(Skyscraper farms--the new law firm?)

I am writing an article for a sociology journal (hence the phraseology below) on large law firms in the 21st century. Here's the abstract and any comments will be most welcome.

Law has traditionally seen itself as unique among the professions in that it has been able to invoke notions of the “public interest” to articulate and to protect professional boundaries. With the rise of the large transnational law firm (LTLF) a conflict between the discourses of professionalism and organization has emerged. With the LTLF’s main orientation towards the market with its ideals of flexibility, mobility, and transparency organization appears to have overtaken the professional ethos. Yet, LTLFs have begun to reshape professionalism from within the organization by invoking new concepts of the meaning of profession. By re-engineering education and training and revisiting ethical compliance, for example, law firms are creating new ideas and professional boundaries which supersede those established by lawyers’
professional associations. LTLFs have formed alliances with other professional organizations, eg, investment banks and accounting firms, to augment their power and authority.

The new professional-organizational ethos is altering accepted notions of career (tournament), ethics/deontology (now conflicts of interest) and governance (transnational managerialism). This can be seen as a reflection of the state’s increasing role in interpreting organizations’ environments as well as LTLFs’ ability (and that of law) to shape the nature of the state’s acknowledgement of the profession’s claims. Moreover, these manoeuvres are bleeding over into the
professional mainstream beyond the large law firms. The organization itself has become a professional actor co-equal with the professional. These disruptions and reinterpretations are analyzed within a normative and discursive institutional context using a combination of historical and comparative data. They show a recursiveness between ideas of professionalism in the 19th and 21st centuries which suggest the era of post-professionalism is yet to be achieved.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Legal Services Act Breeds New Lawyers

(Thanks to New Yorker)


Saturday, December 05, 2009

Promoting and Protecting Human Rights in the UK

(Thanks to PSU)

The Westminster International Law and Theory Centre, and the Student Law Society are holding a public seminar on promoting and protecting human rights in the UK.

Thursday 10 December 2009: 1400-1700.

School of Law, Room 3.07, 4 Little Titchfield St, London W1W 7UW

Attendance is free but spaces are limited. Book yours by emailing:

The current lineup of speakers includes:

Michael Willis MP, Justice Minister

Andrew Dismore MP, Chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights

Prof Francesca Klug, LSE, and former Commission of the Equality and Human Rights Commission

Roger Smith, Director of Justice

Questions and Answers afterwards.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Reclaiming Professional Identity

(Thanks to Don Marquis-1933)

Lawyers are worrying about the potential effects of "Tesco Law" when it hits the streets in 2011. Some have predicted that more than 1,000 law firms might be extinguished.

One other impact, not normally talked about, will be the loss of professional identity or, worse, status. There's no doubt we will see deprofessionalization occur. But does it matter? Is professional identity nought but a chimera? Should we shrug our shoulders and say, "wotthehell, archy, toujours gai".

It's important because of a report issued on the fate of Baby Peter who died while under the supervision of Haringey social services department. Social work failed in frontline services and their management.

So what was to be the fate of social work? It's always been one of those categories which some theorists have argued could be a profession or at best a semi-profession. The British government appointed a Social Work Task Force to answer this. Its report was published today.

It recommends
a call for a reformed system of initial training, together with greater leadership and a strong national voice for the social work profession, led by a college of social work. The report also calls for a single, nationally recognised career structure and a system for forecasting levels of demand for social workers, coupled with clear and binding standards for employers in how frontline social work should be resourced, managed and supported. The Task Force has also recommended a licence to practise system for social workers to acquire and keep up their professional status. In addition to this, improved understanding among the general public, service users, other professionals and the media about the role and purpose of social work, the demands of the job and the contribution social workers make, will be crucial in raising and securing the status of the profession for the future.
As one social worker said on the Today programme: "It's time to raise the profile of social work and reclaim professional identity."

One of the suggestion is to create a Royal College of Social Work like the Royal College of Surgeons. So will it be possible to (re-)create a profession through these measures? There's something manufactured about them that makes me feel very uncertain.

When we look at the histories of professions, their existence seems to be one of tension and struggle with the state. Are they monopolies? Are their practices in the public interest? Do they extract rents? Should they self-regulate?

The answer of the British state is to deprofessionalize and externally regulate where it can--doctors, accountants, university teachers. In this respect lawyers are the last of the tribe to be taken on. And in the case of the Legal Services Act 2007, they didn't realise what hit them. Many still don't.

I don't hold much hope for social workers. But it would pay lawyers to take a moment and look at what has happened to social work and its members. It's very easy to slide down the professional pole; but it is exceedingly hard to climb it.

So let me close with another of archy's maxims, which lawyers might take comfort in:
if you get gloomy just
take an hour off and sit
and think how
much better this world
is than hell
of course it won t cheer
you up much if
you expect to go there