In dependence: the paradox of professional independence and taking seriously the vulnerabilities of lawyers in large corporate law firms

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Colleges, School and Institutes


In this paper, and drawing on the work of Martha Fineman and others, we deploy a vulnerability lens as an heuristic device to push against the concept of professional lawyer independence as enshrined in statute and promoted by legal services regulators. Using interviews with 53 senior partners and others from 20 large corporate law firms, we show how the meaning and practice of independence are profoundly mediated by the contexts, relationships and interactions of corporate lawyers’ everyday working lives. Vulnerable to
competition from other firms, the demands of clients, the shift over time from ‘trusted advisor’ to ‘service provider’, regulatory requirements, pressures to make profit and so on, these corporate lawyers appeared prone to developing and normalising potentially risky and irresponsible practices. We therefore argue that a debate about corporate legal regulation is better based upon a richly theorised concept of inter-dependence that takes seriously the causes and effects of practitioner vulnerabilities in particular circumstances.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-111
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Law and Society
Issue number1
Early online date19 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019