Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2002

Center/Program

Center for Institutional and Social Change

Abstract

In the Interests of Justice: Reforming the Legal Profession lives up to its ambitious title. Deborah Rhode comprehensively surveys the structural problems confronting the legal profession, from its subscription to the "sporting theory of justice" to its preoccupation with profit. The book also lays bare the failure of legal education and the professional regulatory system to confront the roots of these structural problems.1

I must confess that reading the book felt like a whirlwind tour of the legal profession's inevitable problems. In part, this perception grew out of the sheer range of economic, institutional, and structural factors contributing to the problems surveyed and the reforms prescribed. The book also left me with some burning questions: What would trigger or support a sustained movement in the direction Rhode urges? What would align the capacities and incentives of the varying professional, regulatory, and non-governmental actors to mobilize change? Who are those actors? Where are the convergences of catalysts among them that might lead to unlikely alliances and creative problem solving? How might the range of governmental, nongovernmental, and professional regulatory organizations be linked to provide an architecture for tiered (and effective) regulation? How could such a system provide incentives and build capacity to engage in good practice, as well as provide effective sanctions to discourage serious abuse?2

What In the Interests of Justice did not set out to do was to provide a compelling theory of institutional and professional change. Indeed, Rhode's account can be seen as a devastating account of organizational and professional stasis, with the prevailing norms, incentives, information, and power operating to undermine or defuse reform efforts. Particularly when I attempt to imagine the process of professional transformation at the global and comprehensive level, fundamental structural change toward Rhode's social justice vision seems almost utopian.

My response to the enormity of the problems Rhode canvassed was to imagine a more context-specific analysis and reform agenda. The prospect of achieving professional reform took on more realism when I shifted my gaze from the global level to that of particular domains with interrelated problems and actors. Lawyers operate in institutional contexts and communities of practice: organizations, specialty areas, industries, professional roles. What if we took a problem oriented approach to these practice domains?

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