IF legal practice becomes the mere selling of information, the legal profession has some hard lessons to learn and society faces a “significant dysfunctionality”, a top NSW judge has claimed.
The head of the New South Wales Court of Appeal, James Allsop, was speaking about the conflict between professionalism and commercialism in modern legal practice in a speech this week at the Australian Academy of Law Symposium Series.
In a stark warning to the profession, Justice Allsop warned against it becoming the provider of information and services, as opposed to service, as the practice of law comes to be “merely the commercialised sale of legal information”.
The judge connected the idealism of young graduates and cut price legal services, saying the former could teach lawyers to avoid a “decline of professionalism and the ethics of service”.
He said the “intimidatingly bright” young graduates who work with judges as assistants each year all have their own sense of idealism about the law.
All wish to have a sense of fulfillment from their life in the law, he said. “Drive the idealistic young from the profession by perceived venality and exploitative drudgery and they will be replaced by others content to pay the price in order, later, to pluck the goose.
“Perhaps we should be asking them how they would see the proper way to fuse a lifelong rewarding career based on service with building a career; and, not only asking them, but modifying our professional structures accordingly,” Justice Allsop said.
The judge warned that a reported growth in commerciality over professional service would strip the profession of its role. The profession and law schools have a role in assisting to maintain “true professionalism” by promoting research, thinking and discussion that safeguards professional skill, learning, ethics, principles and fiduciary duties.
Justice Allsop cited a recent Le Monde report that detailed the growth in Mumbai of a legal advisory service, called Pangea3, employing graduate lawyers sitting in open planned offices in front of flat digital screens giving advice and legal services over the internet to clients around the world.
“Such customised packaging of information may well take some place in informing clients and even lawyers.
“Companies such as General Electric and Microsoft were reported by Le Monde to be using Indian lawyers for some of their contract and intellectual property work ... If legal practice becomes the mere selling of information, the future has some hard lessons for the profession and a significant dysfunctionality for society.”