Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Foster on Burrage on Law, Lawyers and Revolution in England, France and the U.S.

James C. Foster, Political Science, Oregon State University-Cascades, has a review in the Law and Politics Book Review of Michael Burrage, REVOLUTION AND THE MAKING OF THE CONTEMPORARY LEGAL PROFESSION: ENGLAND, FRANCE, AND THE UNITED STATES (Oxford University Press, 2006).

Michael Burrage’s magisterial tome is a culmination resulting from a convergence of several important developments in one branch of legal sociology. Over the past two decades, students of the legal profession have sought to employ historical analysis, to bring politics back in, and to pursue both endeavors in a comparative vein. Burrage, who currently is a Research Fellow in Industrial Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, himself has been involved in advancing all three of these concerns. For instance, in 1990, Burrage and colleague Rolf Thorstendahl, edited two collections of essays that sought to rethink the study of professions along historical lines (Burrage and Thorstendahl 1990; Thorstendahl and Burrage 1990). Nine years later he contributed an essay to a Review Section Symposium of LAW & SOCIAL INQUIRY addressing Lawyers and Politics (Burrage 1999; cf. Halliday 1999 and Scheingold 1999.) The present work represents something of a scholarly “quantum leap” in which Burrage builds on these developments, pursuing all three lines of inquiry to offer Weberian “intelligible explanations” (p.593) of the distinguishing characteristics of the legal profession in England, France, and the United States. As such, REVOLUTION AND THE MAKING OF THE CONTEMPORARY LEGAL PROFESSION is a welcome addition to the Oxford University Press Socio-Legal Studies series.

Burrage’s book is about what he characterizes as “A Fateful Encounter” (Chap.1, emphasis added). The fateful encounter he plumbs at length is between revolution and lawyers’ professional formation. Burrage’s use of the singular noun – “encounter” – in his key first chapter is somewhat misleading. To begin with, underlying a fateful encounter between revolution and lawyers’ professional formation is another, more fundamental, clash between social ideals and social realities. Burrage begins his analysis of attacks on lawyers in association by reviewing various manifestations of the well known antipathy toward lawyers. Unsurprisingly, it appears that a central goal animating revolution in the West, as Burrage understands the phenomenon, is to be rid of lawyers. “[L]aw without lawyers,” he writes, “has been one of the more enduring and resilient ideals of western civilization, recurring in the works of authors of varied temperaments and philosophies, separated by vast distances of time and culture, and living under diverse social and political systems” (p.5). Given Burrage’s Shakespearean view of the revolutionary ideal to “kill all the lawyers,” one might say that his essential story is one of [*76] paradise lost, or how revolution shaped lawyering without eradicating the profession.
But Burrage’s “encounter” has further dimensions. Not only is he describing revolutionary “ideals that were frustrated or abandoned, and dreams that failed” (p.7), he also is telling the story of three distinct revolutionary encounters. Although revolutions in England, France, and the United States, respectively, may have failed to eliminate lawyers, still “there is reason to believe that the way in which these legal professions resisted or recovered from these revolutionary attacks, and later adjusted to, or were forced to adjust to, the institutionalized settlements of revolutionary ideals can help us to understand their peculiarities in the modern world” (p.7).

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