Vanderbilt Law Review


James W. Jones

First Page



The past two decades have witnessed extraordinary changes that will have a lasting impact on the structure of the legal profession and the ways in which lawyers approach their practices. Some twenty years ago the legal profession was remarkably stable, having changed little in the preceding 100 years. The bar was relatively small, fairly homogeneous, mostly male, and overwhelmingly white anglo-saxon Protestant.The profession was, in the main, a close-knit fraternity of like-minded practitioners who shared a strong sense of common values and a general disdain for any efforts to commercialize the profession. The American Bar Association's 1908 Canons of Ethics best expressed this view with the solemn pronouncement that "the profession is a branch of the ad-ministration of justice and not a mere money-getting trade."

'The word that perhaps best characterized the bar of twenty years ago was "loyalty." Most lawyers were intensely loyal, not only to the profession in general, but also to the other lawyers with whom they practiced. In those halcyon days, a young lawyer quite commonly joined a firm right out of law school (or perhaps after an appropriate clerk-ship) and remained there for his entire professional career. Although lateral movements from one firm to another did occur from time to time, they were uncommon and were viewed as unprofessional if under-taken merely to enhance compensation. A lawyer leaving his firm was analogized to getting a divorce-and divorce in those days was not a respectable choice.

The notion of loyalty also permeated most lawyers' relationships with their clients. Clients generally selected single firms to service all of their legal needs and developed relationships which, despite occasional changes, were remarkably stable. Close relationships of ten or twenty years were common between law firms and their major corporate clients. Most large clients found the concepts of "shopping around" for lawyers or dividing their legal business among several law firms both unattractive and unacceptable.