Law as Engineering

Law as Engineering

Thinking About What Lawyers Do

David Howarth

Law as Engineering proposes a radically new way of thinking about law, as a profession and discipline concerned with design rather than with litigation, and having much in common with engineering in the way it produces devices useful for its clients. It uses that comparison to propose ways of improving legal design, to advocate a transformation of legal ethics so that the profession learns from its role in the crash of 2008, and to reform legal education and research.

Chapter 2: What do lawyers do?

David Howarth

Subjects: economics and finance, law and economics, law - academic, law and economics, law and society, legal theory


The popular image of lawyers is all about litigation. The vast majority of fictional lawyers centre their lives on the courts, either as advocates or as judges. One researcher has noted that ‘Out of the 40 [TV] series on law produced in Britain from 1950 onwards there are only three lawyer-focused series where the courtroom is not fundamental to the series’. From Portia to Judge John Deed, being a lawyer means having a role in court. That image is partly explained by the obvious attractions of the criminal law as drama, both for producers of fiction and of news programmes, and it is noticeable that countries with different kinds of criminal procedure tend to produce legal drama that concentrates on other parts of the process. In France, for example, drama tends to emphasise not the trial but the investigation, and the central legal figure is often the juge d’instruction. But even there, lawyers are typically involved in conflict and contention. Outside the criminal law, television viewers’ most likely legal encounters are still litigious – news items about civil trials or applications for judicial review, or advertisements encouraging them to take part in personal injury litigation. Even the UK government’s advice to young people thinking about a legal career as a solicitor, not even as a barrister or trial lawyer, refers repeatedly to ‘representing’ clients in ‘court’, preparing papers for ‘court’, researching ‘cases’, being ‘persuasive’ and being able to work on ‘several cases at once’.

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