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In the Interests of clients or commerce? Legal aid, supply, demand, and 'ethical indeterminacy' in criminal defence work

Tata, Cyrus (2007) In the Interests of clients or commerce? Legal aid, supply, demand, and 'ethical indeterminacy' in criminal defence work. Journal of Law and Society, 34 (4). ISSN 0263-323X

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Abstract

As a professional, a lawyer's first duty is to serve the client's best interests, before simple monetary gain. In criminal defence work, this duty has been questioned in the debate about the causes of growth in legal aid spending: is it driven by lawyers (suppliers) inducing unnecessary demand for their services or are they merely responding to increased demand? Research reported here found clear evidence of a change in the handling of cases in response to new payment structures, though in ways unexpected by the policy's proponents. The paper develops the concept of 'ethical indeterminacy' as a way of understanding how defence lawyers seek to reconcile the interests of commerce and clients. Ethical indeterminacy suggests that where different courses of action could each be said to benefit the client, the lawyer will tend to advise the client to decide in the lawyer's own interests. Ethical indeterminacy is mediated by a range of competing conceptions of 'quality' and 'need'. The paper goes on to question the very distinction between 'supply' and 'demand' in the provision of legal services.