Journal of the Professional Lawyer
Elite lawyers have long urged the private practice bar to account for the interests of more than their clients in their work. A lawyer who served merely as a "mouthpiece" or "hired gun" of clients failed to meet the standards of professionalism, of failing to act, in Roscoe Pound's words, "in the spirit of a public service." Pound's view, expressed in the mid-20th century, was premised on the ideal that the lawyer pursued a public calling that incidentally was remunerative. This ideal required the lawyer to serve as a social trustee, one encumbered by duties for the benefit of society. Pound's statement was embraced by the American Bar Association and elite lawyers as exemplifying professionalism. The lawyer as social trustee professional reached its apex in the mid-1970s. Within a decade, lawyers wrote lamenting the end of the profession of law, of its descent into a trade or business. This lament has continued for thirty years.
This essay discusses the reasons for the fall of social trustee professionalism and why lawyers should not expect its return. It suggests some parallels with a crisis of professionalism that occurred in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and why that crisis provides some insights into the legal profession's present dilemma.
Michael Ariens, The Rise and Fall of Social Trustee Professionalism, 2016 J. Prof. Law. 49 (2016).