UC Law SF Communications and Entertainment Journal


The Internet allows citizens to comment on public affairs with an amplified and unfiltered voice, creating an open, community-based "participatory culture" where robust debate flourishes. However, many of the ideals and practices of participatory culture clash with the traditional legal culture as it exists in the United States. This cultural conflict can be seen in emerging narratives, in the form of web blogs and lawyer emails that go "viral," in which lawyers comment on the lack of humanism within big law firm hiring and firing practices; expose the alienating work environments experienced by low-level contract attorneys; or criticize judges who show hostility toward criminal defense attorneys.

These blog postings and emails, viewable as a new kind of lawyer narrative, bring value to the profession by offering a different perspective on the practice of law, outside a traditionalist and formalist framework. From a critical standpoint, these narratives tell the story of a broken legal profession, implicitly arguing that the humanistic ideals that the profession supposedly embodies do not apply to all lawyers. Although these stories are, in effect, structural critiques of the profession, they have the potential to run afoul of ethical rules and professional norms that prohibit attorneys from impugning the integrity of the judiciary and the legal profession. Because they provide a valuable critique of the profession, however, ethical rules or professional norms should not operate to shut these stories down. As the democratic ideals inherent in participatory culture become more deeply embedded in our society, the legal profession should also evolve and embrace a more pluralistic and unconstrained approach toward professionalism.