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Revitalizing the Lawyer-Poet: What Lawyers Can Learn from Rock and Roll



This essay offers a novel take on the crisis of professionalism and its causes, consequences, and cure. I suggests that one reason for the failure of the bar's twenty-year campaign to revive professionalism is because it has misidentified the problem as lawyer's increased business behavior. Instead, the essay argues that the roots of lawyers' decreased commitment to the public good can be found primarily in the social changes of the 1960s that made untenable professionalism's dichotomy between self-interested businesses and altruistic lawyers. Rather than dwell on the bar's failed strategies, the essay instead offers rock and roll as a possible source of inspiration. While trying to make money, rock musicians find passion in their work, serve as both social critics and members of the establishment, and make music with a democratic appeal. Why couldn't lawyers also make money, have fun, and do good? Their everyday work can be full of passion, even when they represent corporate clients. But the more difficult obstacles to embracing the spirit of rock and roll are in acknowledging moral responsibility and employing a democratic approach to access to justice. This analysis tracks a DVD film essay of the same name. The film's Director is Brian Danitz, whose previous credits include a Sundance featured documentary and the cinematography of Bowling for Columbine. To place an order for the DVD and associated teaching materials, email
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Fordham University
School of Law
June 2006
Revitalizing the Lawyer-Poet: What Lawyers
Can Learn From Rock and Roll
Russell G. Pearce
Professor of Law
14 Widener L.J. 907 (2005)
(Symposium on The Lawyer as Poet Advocate: Bruce Springsteen and the American Lawyer)
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... 182 Not surprisingly, faced with these unsatisfactory and contradictory claims regarding why their work was valuable, lawyers became dissatisfied with their jobs and developed far higher rates of substance abuse and anxiety-related mental illness than persons in other occupations. 183 Luban offers the elements of a plausible cure for this malaise. Like Obama, he explains to lawyers that they are indeed morally responsible for their actions. ...
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The Essay, a review of David Luban’s Legal Ethics and Human Dignity, identifies both Luban and President Barack Obama as politically liberal thinkers who challenge philosophical liberalism’s position that individual freedom is maximized by relegating consideration of moral values to the private sphere. According to the Essay, “Luban’s perspective on legal ethics mirrors Obama’s critique of philosophical liberalism - recognizing that individuals are not atomistic, that substantive moral obligations exist beyond procedural justice, and that lawyers are responsible for the public good in all aspects of their work.” The Essay describes how the book builds upon Luban’s prior critique of the conception of lawyers as neutral partisans to offer a vision of legal ethics grounded in a relational conception of human dignity. The book, drawing on diverse sources, from Trollope to Fuller to social psychology literature, examines a wide-range of ethical dilemmas, including the Unabomber’s representation, the drafting of the Torture Memos, and the counseling of corporations regarding potential wrongdoing. While commending Luban’s “formidable and fundamental contribution to rethinking the lawyer’s role,” the Essay suggests that Obama’s perspective could advance Luban’s insights even further. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., an earlier progressive critic of philosophical liberalism, Obama finds moral responsibility and the potential for greatness in every person’s work. With the foundation of Luban’s observation that the conduct of lawyers in everyday practice is fundamental to construction of civil society, the Essay proposes that Obama’s additional insights could offer a way to overcome the professional dissatisfaction resulting from the perception that law practice has become a business. If infused with a sense of accountability and purpose, the practice of law can become newly meaningful and the question whether it is a business or a profession an inconsequential one.
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Understanding art and its various manifestations and forms as social representations, this manuscript demonstrates how the rock, critical and challenge rhythm, represents and understands the law. Thus, from the analysis of music ... And Justice for All , of Metallica band, the social representations of legal institutions, reflected in concerns and feelings expressed by the rock will be demonstrated. From these representations, it is understood that the lawyer can better understand the speeches and ideas that circulate in the social context of its role and the judicial system itself, which can assist in transforming the relationship between the subjects of the legal world and individuals social.
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The debate following the shooting of Congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords has highlighted the uncivil, angry, and counterproductive state of public discourse today. In this Article, a contribution to a symposium on the Transformation of Public Interest Law, we argue both that lawyers have been responsible for promoting a culture of incivility and have an opportunity to play an important role in healing that culture.For almost 30 years, the legal profession has been struggling to explain the perceived erosion of professionalism and a corresponding decline in lawyers’ civility. We believe that the current rise in incivility draws its strength from the increasing influence of perspectives grounded in an autonomous, as opposed to relational, view of personal and political self-interest. Specifically, the current incivility crisis, whether unique or cyclical, tracks the shift in the legal profession from a professional conception of the lawyer‘s role grounded in relational self-interest, including an obligation to the public good, to a neutral partisan or hired gun conception grounded in autonomous self-interest and rejecting a particular obligation to the public good. No matter how lawyers view their role, they serve as civics teachers who explain the appropriate responsibilities of citizenship both in their everyday practice and in their civic leadership. Our contention is that as neutral partisans, lawyers have contributed to the civic malaise, in and outside of the legal profession. Many lawyers today practice and teach the autonomous self-interest approach of the Holmesian bad man — the individual‘s obligations to the spirit of the law and the community are only what he or she can get away with within the bounds of the law. In this way, lawyers as civics teachers have promoted a commitment to autonomous self-interest not only in the private dealings of clients but in culturally manufacturing autonomous self-interest as the dominant paradigm of public discourse and in the resulting erosion of relational self-interest as a countervailing influence. We assert that lawyers should instead draw upon the relational tradition found in professionalism and the lawyer‘s historic role to encourage public dialogue, help repair our civic culture, and suggest to clients relational means of pursuing their interests. Our proposal for lawyers as relational civics teachers seeks to change the cultural norms of attorneys and of society. Rather than maintaining the current culture of incivility by acting as neutral partisans, lawyers have the opportunity and obligation to adopt a relational perspective in their work and in their civic leadership. By counseling and modeling relational self-interest, lawyers can play a powerful role challenging the dominance of autonomous self-interest and, over time, help heal our civil society.Prof. Kenneth S. Gallant of the UALR Bowen School of Law posted a reply to our Article on SSRN, which is available at
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