Journal Title

South Carolina Law Review





First Page


Document Type


Publication Information



Legal specialization is an unexceptional aspect of the profession of law because specialization and concentration are expected of lawyers. There has been a transformation in lawyers’ understanding of the reasons justifying their position in society and, therefore, a transformation in their understanding of what it means to be a “professional.” The ideological reasons for this transformation include: (1) the influence of the ABA in promulgating and proselytizing specialization standards; (2) a continuing insistence by the legal profession of the importance of the idea of a unified bar; (3) the large increase in size and influence of the legal academy, consisting of persons usually “specializing” (as teacher, scholar, or consultant) in no more than a few subject areas of law; (4) the American culture's amazing faith in experts, and the ever-narrowing refinements of expertise; (5) and, most importantly, a continued belief by lawyers in the ideals of “professionalism,” an ideal that distinguishes the practice of law from business.

Although American lawyers have rarely defined “professionalism” in clear terms, they have relied repeatedly upon two justifications of the idea of law as a profession: (1) the acquisition of the particularized knowledge of law; and (2) independence from both clients and the market when engaged in the practice of law. The history of the legal profession’s treatment of specialization is interwoven with the profession’s views of the importance of knowledge and independence. For the profession to view legal specialization favorably, proponents of specialization needed to alter the profession's understanding of those two measures. Time and persistence allowed those advocates to succeed. Their success precipitated a new understanding of the lawyer’s work and duty.

Recommended Citation

Michael S. Ariens, Know the Law: A History of Legal Specialization, 45 S.C. L. Rev. 1003 (1994).

Included in

Law Commons