Drake, Philip (2017) 'It's been emotional' - an ethnographic pilot study of students working in a university law clinic. In: SLSA Conference 2017, 5-7 April 2017, Newcastle University. (Unpublished)

Whilst many lawyers believe that financial cost is the most important factor to clients, in a recent survey clients identified understanding their particular needs as their foremost concern (Bellwether Report 2016: 28). However, in a profession where the predominant values are power based (Sommerlad 2007) and with negative cultural capital associated with attributes such as empathy (Thornton 1996; Woods 1993) addressing this concern is not without difficulty. Nowhere is this problem highlighted greater than with the ground-breaking ethnographic study of family lawyers by Sarat and Felstiner (1988). Whilst it might be expected that dealing with family issues would suggest a sensitive approach, Sarat and Felstiner identified an emotional battle of wills in the interaction between lawyer and client; where clients wanted to explain their past, focus on character and personality dispositions and explain how they were victims of external circumstances; whereas lawyers sought to avoid negotiating or engaging with the reality of the situation and prioritised rules analysis and problem solving. Indeed, emotions were only seen as a reason to invite total client dependence.

This approach to emotions can be contrasted with the outcome of a recent ethnographic pilot study of a university law clinic where emotions were identified as a common theme throughout the data. Through a Bourdieusian lens and adopting Weber’s model of rationality, this paper will explore the reasons why the participants in this particular law clinic identified emotions as so important and consider if an advice only model seeking to empower individuals might require a focus upon emotions that the traditional representation model ignores. The paper will explore how the students give meaning to what they say and do and their recognition that their values in the law clinic differ substantially from the perceived values of the interlinking fields of legal education and the legal profession.

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