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International Journal of the Legal Profession. Volume 5, Numbers 2/3 (1998), p. 175-192.


The legal profession has never been much loved. From Plato through Charles Dickens to Tom Wolfe, literature attests eloquently to its impugned status. As much envied as reviled, the reputation and prestige of lawyers is now considered by many to be at an all-time low. Its image as a noble and honourable profession is in tatters. Society tends to view lawyers as a rich and elite profession that is more interested in its own pocketbook than the public interest. The number of savage jokes about lawyers would be funny if they did not touch a raw nerve: after all, humour is not so much an escape from reality as from despair. In receipt of a professional monopoly, lawyers are considered self-interested and undeserving of their privileged right to govern themselves. Indeed, the legal profession is seen to epitomise George Bernard Shaw's quip that "every profession is a conspiracy against the laity". However, while a similar sense of dissatisfaction and anxiety is evident inside the less crass sectors of the profession, the more familiar refrain is that any crisis is attributable to the fact that the profession once had a shared sense of legal ethics and professional responsibility which has been lost. Having become too much a corporate business than a public vocation, it is urged that the legal profession must revert to this traditional esprit de corps if it is to regain its respectability and stature: lawyers must reclaim the ethical legacy of noble lawyers past.

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