Profession: A Definition

By Buhai, Sande L. | Fordham Urban Law Journal, November 2012 | Go to article overview

Profession: A Definition


Buhai, Sande L., Fordham Urban Law Journal


Introduction  I. Provision of Personal Services  II. Specialized Education and Independent Judgment        A. Specialized Education           1. Law           2. Medicine           3. Accounting        B. Use of Independent Judgment           1. Law           2. Medicine           3. Accounting  III. Expert Knowledge        A. Law        B. Medicine        C. Accounting  IV. Trust        A. Law        B. Medicine        C. Accounting  V. Ethos Other than Profit Maximizing        A. Licensing           1. Law           2. Medicine           3. Accounting        B. Discipline           1. Law           2. Medicine           3. Accounting  VI. Continuing Education Requirement      A. Law      B. Medicine      C. Accounting  VII. Duties to the Public      A. Law      B. Medicine      C. Accounting Conclusion 

INTRODUCTION

What is a "profession"? Is law a "profession"? And why might anyone care? The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines "profession" as "[a]n occupation in which a professed knowledge of some subject, field, or science is applied; a vocation or career, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification." (1) Under the OLD definition, chemistry is a "profession." So is fashion design. That law is a "profession" under this definition is trivial: the practice of law requires prolonged training and a formal qualification; in the course of their practice, lawyers apply their knowledge of the law. But so what? When lawyers assert that law is a "profession" and not a business, they clearly mean something more.

Julius Henry Cohen begins his 1916 exploration of the question with a portrait of two lawyers discussing current cases. (2) On the surface, their conversation is concrete and focuses on detail. What is interesting to Cohen, however, is how the lawyers' professional backgrounds and shared experiences shape their interchange. (3) "[N]o other profession ... furnishes so many opportunities for colloquial philosophizing and interchange of psychological information," he asserts. (4) He then contrasts the lawyers' lively exchange with a conversation about one of the same cases between a lawyer and a layman. (5)

The conversation between lawyer and layman is dull, strained, and requires much more explanation by the lawyer. (6) Acknowledging the disparity of expertise, the layman poses Cohen's central questions:

   Why should there be a class enjoying special privileges? Why should    there be a group of men amenable to summary court process for    professional misconduct? Why any standards of professional conduct?    Why shouldn't anyone be permitted to draw up papers, appear in    court--argue about facts? What is the raison d'etre of the whole    professional scheme? Why shouldn't lawyers advertise or solicit    business, as business men do? Why shouldn't they pay 'commissions'    for getting business? (7) 

Norman Bowie's 1988 article collected others' attempts to provide a more meaningful definition. Abraham Flexner stated that for an occupation to be considered a profession it must:

   (1) possess and draw upon a store of knowledge that was more than    ordinarily complex; (2) secure a theoretical grasp of the phenomena    with which it dealt; (3) apply its theoretical and complex    knowledge to the practical solution of human and social problems;    (4) strive to add to and improve its stock of knowledge; (5) pass    on what it knew to novice generations not in a haphazard fashion    but deliberately and formally; (6) establish criteria of admission,    legitimate practice, and proper conduct; and (7) be imbued with an    altruistic spirit. (8) 

Walter Metzger argued that the "paramount function of professions ... is to ease the problems caused by the relentless growth of knowledge." (9)

The Report of the Commission on Professionalism to the Board of Governors and the American Bar Association (ABA) House of Delegates adopted Roscoe Pound's lofty definition (10): "a group . …

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