Version anglo-saxonne de l’AAC du n°16…

Legal professionals

Coordinators: Gaëtan Flocco, Danièle Linhart and Laurent Willemez

A sociological analysis of legal and judiciary professionals will make relatively little use of the standard tools associated with the sociology of work. Attention here is usually paid to the modes of regulation characterising the professional populations operating in this space and their relationship to applicable professionalisation policies. A multitude of studies have looked, for instance, at judges’ production from an interactionist and even ethnomethodological perspective; at the professional relationships among groups of lawyers; at the managerialisation of judicial activities; or at different actors’ use of legal categories such as discrimination. However interesting and useful such studies have been, a number of blind spots remain in this corpus and it is precisely here that NRT intends to attack. The premise will be that the sociology of work, organisations and employment is capable of reworking certain issues that the sociology of law and justice have hardly ever touched. One notable example is the actual work that law and justice professionals do. By looking at the places where they exercise their profession, their group regulation and their employment status, it becomes possible to develop a joint study of a whole host of workers whose entire activity is characterised by its benefit-sharing attributes. The workers in question interact with one another, either cooperatively or competitively, typically via a specific division of labour. They devise economic and legal rules to direct their work and exert control over it – or, conversely, to increase their room to manœuvre. In short, the legal specificities derived from the legal dimension of these actors’ activity – and the way they relate to them – is meant to form the heart of this new corpus, whose purpose will be to offer a concrete study of individuals who manipulate, use and produce law-related tools and categories as part of their daily professional activity.

Against this general background, proposals can be formulated in relation to a thematic list that does not purport to be exhaustive. All work-related questions will be linked with the workers’ social status, making it possible to question the different relationships they have with legal activities, the resources at their disposal and the constraints they face.

– Service relationships within legal activities. The point here is to study the work that legal experts do, whether in their chambers or in public, work depicted here as a service relationship with users of justice and other customers. Some offer specific services (lawyers, notary publics, corporate legal staff, etc.) whereas others arbitrate litigation or sanction misdeeds. As an expression, the construct of a service relationship is particularly appropriate for the first category, whereas for the latter it has more of a metaphoric value. In both cases, contributions might look at topics like the way users are managed, how they are perceived and the roles they might play. In particular, there is need for analysis of how the legal or judicial “services” they provide are rooted in dissymetrical relationships between professionsl and customer users by exploring exactly how said relationships have been designed and delivered.

– Organisation of legal work. This second strand refers to a number of issues that are rarely evoked by sociologists with a specialisation in law and justice, relating to the way legal professionals organise their work. Contributions might then focus on collective working and on the division of labour, whether this happens in a lawyer’s office, in a large company’s legal department, in a notary’s chambers or in a courtroom – while also looking at the division of labour in all these places.  The advantage is that this will highlight legal professions about which little has ever been written (court registrars, legal secretaries, notaries, solicitors, HRM staff specialised in legal professions, workplace inspectors, parliamentary assistants, etc.), all of whom are key to legal and judicial activities. This raises questions about the rationalisation of legal and judicial work, and about the management tools used on these different sites and as part of all these activities. Questions will also be asked about digital technologies’ introduction in legal practice (user-accessible databases, testimony production technologies, private organisations working within the administration of justice, etc.) – in line with a wider trend found in the sociology of work pertaining to “digital labour”.

– Legal workers’ working conditions. A third strand will explore legal specialists’ working conditions, another topic that has received scant interest. Whether this relates to the work that lawyers or judges do in their chambers – and whether the professionals involved are self-employed or work for a firm = it is possible to observe spillovers from their activity that go well beyond usual working time issues. One study here might look at the intensification of legal specialists’ work and whether this is the result of worsening market competition or the greater productivity demands associated with certain new public management methods. Particular attention might be paid to the health consequences and working conditions for court and particularly courtroom staff. Some are non-stop on the phone in their open space offices whereas others are always racing to meet deadlines and often work very late at night. Similar questions can also be asked about how corporate lawyers drowning in work organise their time – not to mention the work-life balance they might arrange.

Submission details

Contributions should be no longer than 45,000 characters (including spaces, footnotes and bibliography) and submitted before 20 April 2019 to applying the presentation modalities and norms specified in the NRT website’s Soumission et évaluation section.

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