Our research

Legal Professions Research Group

liberty building

Our research explores contemporary issues within the field, at both a national and international level.  Our overarching research theme is ‘understanding the changing nature of the legal profession in the 21st Century’, which encompasses the following research streams:

  1. Professionalism, Professional Ethics and the Regulation of Legal Services

Drawing on the sociology of the professions, regulatory theory and moral philosophy, work under this theme focuses on the impact of globalisation and marketization on professionalism and its formal and informal norms, and how regulators and professionals do - and should - respond to the challenges posed by these forces.  Our projects examine professional culture; alternative business structures, the role of compliance officers for legal practice, the role of emotion and empathy within legal practice and legal decision-making, and the impact of New Public Management (e.g. audit) on the legal aid sector.  

  1. Corporate Lawyers and Large Law Firms

This theme encompasses both global law firms and their practitioners (including para-professionals), and large corporations’ in-house lawyers.  Projects include: how these groups both make and mould law, shaping and resisting regulation for themselves and their clients; how large law firms and corporate lawyers can promote or undermine the public interest and/or the delivery of public and private goods in the commercial context, at both national and international levels (for example pro bono legal services/corporate governance/CSR/ESG); and sub-cultures and professional identities within large law firms.   

  1. The Market for Legal Services, Professional Boundaries and the Future of Legal Work

This theme explores the erosion of the boundaries of professional work and the emergence of new para-professional groups; the implications of digital, machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies and remote working for practice, professionalism and professional identify within traditional law firms, new forms of legal services provision and commercial corporate entities. Lessons are drawn from the experience of other professions (such as efforts to reinvigorate professionalism in probation after the failure of part-privatisation and in the face of managerialist government intervention).

  1. Access to Justice, Cause Lawyering and Challenges to the Rule of Law

Access to justice is fundamental to the rule of law, yet in England and Wales it has been eroded by over two decades of cutbacks and managerialist reforms, resulting in advice deserts and a criminal justice system in crisis. Projects include: the causes of this crisis (replicated in many other Western jurisdictions) in particular, the relationship between access to justice and citizenship; managerialism and the restructuring of legal professionalism and of professional identity; the culture of ‘cause lawyering’ and its operation within national and international criminal justice and in authoritarian and post-conflict international environments; and the role of lawyers in countries where the rule of law is weak.

  1. Diversity, Wellbeing and Workplace Culture  

The contemporary legal profession is increasingly diverse, and women have comprised the majority of entrants for over two decades.  However, in a number of jurisdictions the profession has been transformed from a relatively homogenous institution into one which is increasingly stratified along gender, race and class lines.  Our engagement with this issue spans professional culture and the barriers it presents to women, non-white lawyers and those from lower socio-economic groups; initiatives designed to increase diversity at senior levels in large law firms; sexual harassment; women ‘leavers’; law students’ professional and personal identities; generational divides; judicial diversity initiatives; and well-being in legal education and the profession. Recent initiatives include the co-creation of the Advancing Wellness in Law Network that brings together legal academics and legal professionals.  


  1. Legal Education and Training, and the formation of Professional identity

Pedagogically informed research represents an essential component of the contemporary debate about the suitability and future of legal education and training in the face of global challenges. This theme focuses on the role of a law school in the formation of professional identities, and in the inculcation of ethicality and the development of skills appropriate for the changing world of professional work (including non-traditional skills such as data governance and project management). Ongoing projects include: the capacity of reverse mentoring in legal education and the profession to break down hierarchies and facilitate positive professional identity development and a sense of belonging by under-represented groups; professional identify formation of international lawyers working in national and international contexts; and the extent to which domestic legal professionals working in a global environment have the necessary  skills and ethical framework to respond to  global challenges.