• Robert Spicer

Alternative legal practice: theoretical basis and practical issues

Campbell’s view (The Left and Rights) is that the radical lawyer is both tolerated and ignored. Tolerated because his existence seems somehow “good” for the profession at large – making it representative of all opinion – and ignored because what he does in the affluent liberal hour threatens no-one. The radical lawyer is entangled in a situation where he is committed to undermining the very structure which provides his own power base.

The theoretical basis of alternative practice involves the following principles:

  • Resistance to war, racism, discrimination and exploitation

  • Opposition to money fetishism

  • A commitment to demystification

  • The pursuit of social justice

  • Opposition to traditional formalities and conventions which hinder access to justice.Many English lawyers with a social conscience are so involved with making money or with the daily pressures of court work that alternatives to the current system are never considered. The great majority of lawyers, being essentially conservative, practise according to traditional conventions. The time demands of practice can offer few opportunities for lawyers to stand back and think about alternatives to mainstream practice. There is an almost unbridgeable gap between critical academic lawyers on the one hand, and coal-face practitioners on the other (although it is unrealistic to compare the daily work of the lawyer with that of the miner). The dynamics of daily practice can result in lawyers submerging their ideals to economic considerations and pragmatic results.Traditional practice as a barrister confirms, and indeed encourages, remoteness from the client. Barristers have traditionally kept clients at arms length through the rule that a solicitor must act as an intermediary. This principle has been eroded by the introduction of public access rights, but it is important to be aware that this relaxation was forced upon the profession in the teeth of determined opposition. The profession has always emphasised objectivity, detachment and the application of legal skills as a technical exercise.

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