lawyers who defend the state against society
A little while back, I got into a discussion with a student about the role of lawyers in society. As usual, I explained my position that lawyers mostly work at facilitating transactions and wealth transfers (e.g., settlements and damages). While there is value in rule enforcement and reducting transaction costs, they don’t increase the size of the pie.
I also opined that lawyers don’t drive social change. It’s misleading to think that desegregation ended because of a lawsuit. Rather the lawsuit is about institutionalizing policies that are made possible by shifting public opinion. My student then pointed out an interesting thing: one thing that lawyers do is defend the state against society. In other words, when public opinion changes and people litigate, the lawyers often act as “institutional workers” to help the state maintain its legitimacy through the courts.