Document Type

Response or Comment

Publication Date



Lawyers should be more like social workers. That is the message of Law as Social Work, the provocative essay by Jane Aiken and Stephen Wizner (Aiken & Wizner) in the Washington University Journal of Law & Policy volume, which preceded the conference on Promoting Justice Through Interdisciplinary Teaching, Practice, and Scholarship, hosted by Washington University School of Law in March 2003. Almost as if in reply, Abbe Smith's contribution to the same pre-conference volume reasserts the importance of lawyers as zealous and partisan advocates, using the realities of the criminal defense context to argue for the value of the lawyer's traditional adversarial role.

The competing views of the professional role embodied in the Aiken & Wizner and Smith Articles, as well as the visions of social justice that underlie them, are familiar territory for those who teach lawyering in the context of law school clinics, where initiating students into the ethics and culture of the legal profession is often a primary pedagogical goal. The tensions and similarities between law and social work emerge in particularly vivid form for clinical teachers first venturing into interdisciplinary practice in collaborative environments between lawyers and social workers. As a new initiate into the ranks of law professors who teach in interdisciplinary clinics; as a teacher of professional lawyering ethics; as a believer in adversarial ethics firmly grounded in criminal defense practice; and as someone committed to teaching law as social justice, I find myself struggling to find a comfortable place of reconciliation between the ideals of Aiken & Wizner's and Smith's pragmatics. This Article is my attempt at such a reconciliation.

This Article begins with a review of the Aiken & Wizner and Smith Articles, pointing out the themes that are common to both and the tensions in their competing visions of justice and professionalism. The second part of the Article explores the tensions between the professional perspectives of lawyers and social workers, as reflected in their differing conceptions of social justice, and analyzes how those differing visions affect issues of systemic role and relationships with clients. The third part turns to a discussion of how these tensions have played out in the field of juvenile justice, in which law and social work have historically interacted. The Article concludes by affirming the traditional adversarial ethical role of lawyers, while further suggesting ways in which the work of lawyers can be broadened and enhanced by embracing some aspects of the social work perspective.

Publication Citation

14 Wash. U. J.L. & Pol'y 49 (2004).