‘Professional Responsibility and Ethics’ is one of the ‘Priestley 11’ law subjects compulsorily undertaken by Australian law students who aspire to be admitted to practice. Many of the brightest join the major corporate law firms. Nevertheless, there is little theoretical analysis of how those firms are functioning to affect the professional and ethical conduct of their practitioners in the neoliberal state. In this article it is argued that in the mature and highly competitive marketplace for legal services, rather than working as autonomous professionals, corporate lawyers are now finding themselves working more and more as functionaries subservient to the dictates of their corporate clients. Drawing on interviews with Australian major law firm corporate lawyers and Charles Derber’s theory on the proletarianisation of professional workers, it is argued that corporate lawyers are losing key elements of their professional identity in the impetus to maintain the client list and the profit motive. Furthermore, as the balance of power in the corporate legal sector is shifting from law firms to clients, the professional ethics of law firm lawyers are at risk of being compromised as they find themselves being reduced to little more than ‘flush’ factory fodder for the major corporations.
Field of Research
180121 Legal Practice, Lawyering and the Legal Profession