Reflections on ‘professionalism’ and legal practice: An outmoded ideology or an analytically useful category?

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This article examines whether the concept of ‘professionalism’ as applied to the legal profession serves any useful guide as to how lawyers should act. Professionalism is defined in terms of civility for the purposes of this article and considered against the backdrop of a perceived ‘decline’ in professionalism in the legal profession. Arguably, professionalism is all too often subsumed under the heading of ethics in both common parlance and in course content in law schools where Ethics, Professional Responsibility are part of the curriculum with little weight given to professionalism per se. This article reflects, in part, on the student perception as to the state of the profession garnered from their responses to an assessment task at an Australian university. The issue is ripe for further discussion given that in Australia, the Law Admissions Consultative Committee has queried whether the teaching of Ethics (and therefore Professionalism) should be withdrawn from the core curriculum. The article queries if there is in fact a ‘decline’ in standards and civility and, if so, considers the potential to arrest this ‘decline’ by the profession, universities and students working together to revive ‘professionalism’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)294-319
Number of pages26
JournalLegal Ethics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • professionalism
  • legal profession
  • ethics and professional responsibility
  • civility
  • teaching professionalism

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