Working Paper, May 13 2013
North America is the common law world’s last bastion of traditional lawyer self-regulation. In the United States and in common law Canada, lawyers make and enforce almost all of the rules which govern legal service delivery. These regulatory regimes are also distinctive in their (i) maintenance of a single, unified occupation of lawyer, (ii) insulation of law firms from non-lawyer ownership, and (iii) near-exclusive regulatory focus on individual lawyers as opposed to law firms. Other wealthy English-speaking countries (the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand) have gradually abandoned all of these elements of traditional lawyer regulation over the past 40 years.
Why have North American lawyers and legislators resisted such reforms and maintained traditional self-regulation? One school of thought is that lawyers have defended traditional self-regulation in order to protect their own interests. However, North American lawyers supported by functionalist sociologists respond that traditional self-regulation protects the interests of clients and the public by upholding important core values. This article seeks to elucidate this public interest theory, through a new reading of the legal and sociological literature. The thesis is that professionalism and independence are the two allied but conceptually distinct core values which animate the public interest theory of traditional lawyer regulation.
Online: SSRN, http://ssrn.com/abstract=2262518