You, Us and Them: The Multiple Projects of the New South Wales Law Society
journal contributionposted on 04.06.2020, 10:38 by Justine Rogers, Deborah Hartstein
This article examines the 'true' nature of a contemporary professional association, reporting on an interview study of the New South Wales Law Society. Once the central symbol of professionalism, there is little empirical research on the workings of associations today. Existing research questions both the propriety and the enduring strength of associational power. Associations have been shown to prioritise their professional 'projects', or strategies to secure status rewards, over public functions. Recent writing has argued that, as 'inflexible' organisations, associations have been unable to adapt to changing conditions in order to continue their collective enterprise. This article provides a wholistic account, showing that the association is a hybrid organisation with several distinct sets of features, values and outcomes — even contradictory ones. The findings reveal an association challenged to defend its role in professional knowledge, group cohesion, government relations and regulatory autonomy. However, we capture its new and renewed 'projects': a membership project with a profit-seeking orientation, as well as rehabilitated public and collective projects. The analysis contributes to the discussion on professional decline, supporting arguments for continuity, adaptation and alignment. This study suggests that contemporary associations, especially those retaining some formal regulatory power, are more complex, resilient organisations than typically depicted.