Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Robert W. Gordon -- The Role of Lawyers in Producing the Rule of Law: Some Critical Reflections

Friday, February 26, 2010

12 p.m. – 2 p.m.

McKinney Conference Room. RSVP to Ellen_White@brown.edu.

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"The Role of Lawyers in Producing the Rule of Law: Some Critical Reflections," with Robert W. Gordon, Chancellor Kent Professor of Law and Legal History, Yale University Law School.

Projects (such as those of the World Bank, USAID, and ABA) to export the "Rule of Law" to developing or ex-Communist societies count on new cadres of honest, competent and independent judges to administer frameworks of rules and rights and of lawyers to transmit them to individual and business clients. But are legal professions reliable promoters of the Rule of Law? This paper summarizes some of the historical and comparative evidence on the role of lawyers in building different forms of liberal legality: legalism (regular and predictable procedures; following rules laid down in advance); political liberalism (basic frameworks of rights to speech, press, assembly, petition, free elections and political party organization, protection against arbitrary arrest and imprisonment; protection of minorities from persecution and discrimination; and economic liberalism (basic frameworks of liberal capitalism: markets, property rights, contract enforcement, efficient forms of business organization; and more ambitiously broad state policies to provide security and opportunity). The conclusion is that this evidence is distinctly mixed, indicating that lawyers often subvert or impede the formation of norms, institutions and procedures supporting liberal legality as well as promoting them; and suggesting some caution in designing projects relying on them. 

The Brown Legal Studies Seminar (BLSS) is an interdisciplinary colloquium series, featuring cutting-edge research on law and legal institutions, from a wide range of vantage points across the social sciences and humanities. Sessions are open to the entire Brown community, but we particularly welcome faculty and graduate students, from all fields. BLSS is sponsored by the Office of the Provost and the Watson Institute for International Studies. Advance reading may be expected (see www.watsoninstitute.org/blss).


Please note location change -- this seminar will be held in the McKinney Conference Room at the Watson Institute, 111 Thayer Street. 

RSVP to Ellen_White@brown.edu.