Divorce Lawyers at Work: Varieties of Professionalism in Practice

By Lynn Mather; Craig A. McEwen et al. | Go to book overview

4
THE BOUNDARIES OF EXPERTISE

Divorce is relatively cut and dried in terms of what the law is. I have the Maine laws, I have a treatise. If I'm not sure of an answer, I look it up.

—a Maine divorce lawyer

The concept of expertise has always been central to debates about the meaning of professionalism. For the functionalists who pioneered the sociological study of professions, it was the professional's expertise— the mastery of a body of knowledge of value to society—that both justified and necessitated self-regulation of professional behavior to ensure that it served the public interest (Parsons 1939; Goode 1957). To varying degrees, the more recent scholars of the professions have been less willing than their predecessors to accept at face value the idea that professionals actually possess distinctive expertise (Larson 1977; Abel 1989; Kritzer 1998b). Even the skeptics agree, however, that the sine qua non for the success of an occupational group seeking to establish itself as a profession is the capacity to persuade the public to accept its claims to special knowledge.

-64-

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