Thursday and Friday, September 8-9, 2011
Scope and Purpose
The legal profession faces a stunning and diverse array of challenges relating to professionalism, ethics, business models, education, and the role and responsibility of the lawyer in relation to both clients and society. The scope of this meeting is purposely broad as we strive to follow up the insights provided in the June 2010 London conference that brought together a wide range of strategies and issues regarding the regulation of lawyers and the essential functions of members of the legal profession in a society governed under the Rule of Law. Ideally and perhaps naively, the lawyer’s primary duty and obligation are often described as being dedicated to preserving and improving the quality and fairness of the institutions of “Law” specifically or the “Rule of Law” more generally. The special status of the lawyer under in a common law based system is due at least in part to the rhetorical force of the ideal of lawyer as a conservator of the principles of justice and respect for the law.
But this view of the legal profession may be dangerously naïve. Lawyers contributed through their misfeasance or malfeasance to the breakdown of the world financial system. Lawyers have provided legal opinions under which Western nations are increasingly eroding civil rights and liberties using the all-encompassing and irresistible logic of national security and anti-terrorism. Lawyers promote abusive civil dispute resolution systems that threaten to distort the social and political debate over the relations between law and morals and the individual and the state. Lawyers have engendered and perpetuated a business model that requires inefficiencies in delivering services to clients while at the same time law schools continue to churn out far more graduates than can be productively and economically absorbed by the system.
This symposium will further develop these core ideas with the continuing emphasis on practical reforms of the kind displayed in the June 2010 London meeting sponsored by the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies at the University of London and the University of Westminster School of Law. Critically, the symposium will focus increased concentration on strategies, techniques, institutions and organizational forms that are considered most relevant and feasible for the US.
The subject matter of this symposium is intentionally broad in an attempt to develop more fully the challenges (and their possible solutions) facing the legal profession in the 21st Century. The fundamental theme of the conference revolves around the question of whether lawyers can continue to serve their traditional idealized roles as guardians of the law and of the Rule of Law. In connection with that theme, we are asking participants to think about how 21st Century issues in the following areas (with a non-exclusive set of suggested subtopics) will affect those traditional roles:
- Education of lawyers – Do current educational models develop lawyers with respect for legal institutions and the Rule of Law? What impact does the heavy burdens of student debt loads have upon future lawyers’ practice? What is the effect of expanded emphasis on practical skills instruction on lawyers’ commitment to the law as an institution?
- Ethical regulation of lawyers and the legal profession – What is the proper balance between an independent bar as a bulwark against state overreaching and state regulation of unethical or illegal practices by lawyers? How effective are current limitations on business association with non-legal professionals in protecting the integrity and judgment of the bar? Does an independent bar continue to serve important social and cultural goals?
- Business and economic pressures faced by lawyers – Many commentators have observed that extrinsic factors are imposing extraordinary economic pressures on existing legal business models. To what extent do such business and economic pressures erode the capacity of practicing lawyers to act as conservators of legal institutions and the rule of law?
The LAWYERS AS CONSERVATORS symposium is intended to provide a continuing strategic dialogue aimed at relevant actors both within and without the regulatory systems to take actions that improve the level of professionalism of the providers of legal services, both traditional and emerging. Importantly, this symposium will address the additional theme of preserving lawyers’ traditional cultural role as conservators of the Rule of Law. This recognizes the continuing validity of the observation made well over a century ago by French social philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville in his classic Democracy in America in which he described the lawyers as America’s aristocracy, one responsible for advancing the quality of our society and preserving its core values. We will explore whether it is possible to fashion new business models, create more effective standards of professionalism and ethics, and design regulatory structures that preserve and enhance the status of lawyers as bulwarks against overreaching and oppression by the state and other powerful institutional actors.
The symposium is being co-sponsored by the University of Westminster School of Law and the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies of the University of London.