Regulating Lawyers: North American Perspectives and Problematics

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Lawyers, Regulation, Societal Influence, Social Contract, Public Interest


In most modern societies, lawyers-both individually and as a collective profession-are identified as playing significant social, economic, cultural, and political roles. Lawyers are implicated in almost every aspect of our lives: they frequently influence and draft legislation that regulates-among various other things-the roadways and our behaviour on them, how our houses are built and maintained, and the conditions under which we can offer our labour; lawyers provide advice on multiple matters including family relations, exchange relations, taxation matters, domestic trade, and international trade; they help us establish relationships (both familial and commercial) and help us resolve disputes when they break down; when social relations fray, they litigate on behalf of citizens and commercial entities; they defend or prosecute alleged criminals; they advocate for the equality of rights for disadvantaged and minority groups; they protect us from abuses of police power and from state interference in our private lives (and advise the state how to successfully interfere in our private lives). In short, lawyers exercise enormous power and influence.

Because lawyers have access to and exercise such significant power, it is often said that they have a social contract with society. In return for the privilege of being a lawyer, the responsibility of every lawyer, and the profession, is to promote and protect the public interest. Others go further and claim that because of their privileged status, lawyers and the legal profession are fiduciaries.