"Lawyers and the State: A France-USA Comparison of Public Service and Pro Bono Work"

Saturday, 21 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Taking its cue from Pierre Bourdieu’s idea that professions and professional groups should not be opposed to the State, but rather be understood as dependent on it to have their “jurisdictional boundaries” [Abbott, 1988, p. 2] acknowledged, this presentation focuses on lawyers and on the legal field in France and in the USA, in both a diachronic and synchronic approach. The comparison between these two countries is oppositional: it contrasts French “State lawyers” (i. e. members of the “Conseil d’État” and public law professors) and their role in the construction of a State-oriented legal field, with US lawyers and their self-regulation outside of the State, or, more precisely, “at the expense of a bureaucratic construction of State power” [Dezalay, 2013, p. 68]. Under the Third Republic (1870-1940), the former strove to impose the notion of public service as the heartland of work of their “jurisdiction” (in the proper sense as well as in the sense of Andrew Abbott’s ecology of professions). Over the last 30 years, the latter promoted pro bono work as a means to improve their professional reputation, which had been questioned and undermined by their intense practice of corporate law, as well as an alternative to the redistribution of wealth through the tax system. This contribution will be based on two different surveys: the first one is a prosopographical enquiry (n = 116) on the exponents of public service in France between 1870 and 1940; the second one is an ongoing postdoctoral research on pro bono legal practice and its importation in France; it includes an ethnographic immersion in two global law firms in Paris (DLA Piper and Morgan Lewis) and a series of interviews with pro bono partners and members of the French bar.