Document Type


Publication Title

Hofstra Law Review



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law firms, legal culture, autonomous self-interest, relational self-interest


In recent years, the ethical infrastructure and culture of law firms has come under attack from commentators, such as Larry Ribstein, Bill Henderson, and Marc Galanter, who, in related ways, predict "the death of Big Law." They assert that the individualistic ethical infrastructure and culture of large firms undermine their commitment to professional values and will result in their failure to prepare for, and to survive, long term economic and technological trends. We identify a contradiction at the heart of this analysis. While these critiques correctly identify the individualistic flaws of law firm culture, they share the same individualistic assumptions. They presume that lawyers, law firms, and clients are captives of what we describe as "autonomous self-interest"-that they are "Holmesian bad men (and women)" and organizations who "seek to maximize their own atomistic good" without regard for the interests of their colleagues, employees, neighbors, and communities. Instead, we propose that lawyers and clients, when given the opportunity, prefer "relational self-interest-'the view that all actors are inter-connected, whether [as] individuals [or in groups] ... [and] cannot maximize [their] own good in isolation.