I delivered my own paper in the final set of parallel sessions last Saturday. Entitled ‘Lawyering in liquid times: Values and professionalism in an age of uncertainty’, it took Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of liquid modernity as a framework for reflecting on changing values of legal professionalism. The paper focused on three problem areas which I defined as: achieving trust in the profession; maintaining moral identity and a sense of lawyering as ‘meaningful work’ (adopting Simon’s term), and, lastly, limiting lawyers’ “distantiation” (Bauman’s word) from the consequences of their acts. I looked at each of these in the context of potential changes in professional values and ethics being heralded-in by the new regulatory objectives of the (English) Legal Services Act 2007 and the proposed move to outcomes-based regulation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. I argued that these changes were indicative of a move to a more market-based trust model, and offered some potential to reinvigorate both collective (at the level of the firm) and individual moral responsibility. I remained fairly skeptical whether the changes, by themselves would make a significant contribution to (re)building moral identity, and argued that they offered little solution in particular to the problem of distantiation. The paper generated some interest, though I’m not sure at this stage that there is enough in the idea to merit development into a full article. Thanks though to Kim Economides, Limor Zer-Gutman, and Russ Pearce for their observations and enthusiasm!
The final session of the conference involved a tough choice between a panel on ethics and neuroscience, and one on legal ethics and jurisprudence. I wish I could have attended both. (The ability to clone oneself would have been useful throughout the conference – I do think we could have had fewer parallels and gone into a third day.) In the end I attended the session entitled ‘Philosophical legal ethics: Ethics, morals and jurisprudence. It involved a roundtable discussion, consummately facilitated by David Luban, between a panel of ethics luminaries: Tim Dare, Daniel Markovits, Katherine Kruse, Stephen Pepper, Bill Simon, Brad Wendel and Alice Woolley. I’m not going to try and capture the session here, but the papers will be worked up for publication in Legal Ethics, and are available in their original form on SSRN. However, I was particularly struck by the suggestion, near the end, that most philosophical issues around legal ethics are actually matters of political rather than moral philosophy. Some food for thought here.
Work is now beginning on ILEC V, which will take place in in Banff, Alberta, on July 12-14, 2012. A steering committee has also been set up to look at creating a new international association of legal ethicists. It’s really great to see what is now coming out of the process that Kim Economides and I started on a wing and a prayer in Exeter back in 2004.