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Lawyers for Conservative Causes: Clients, Ideology, and Social Distance

March 2003

From Law and Society Review

Scholars have devoted attention to “cause lawyers” on the political left, but lawyers who work on the conservative side of the American political spectrum have received relatively little academic consideration. This article presents systematic data on the characteristics of and relationships among lawyers affiliated with organizations active on a selected set of 17 conservative issues.

We find that the lawyers serve several separate and distinct constituencies—business conservatives, Christian conservatives, libertarians, abortion opponents—and that the credentials of the lawyers serving these varying constituencies differ significantly. The greatest degree of social separation occurs between the business constituency and the abortion opponents, with another clear separation between libertarians and the interest groups devoted to traditional family values and order maintenance. The divisions among these constituencies appear to reflect the difference between “insider politics” and “populism,” which is manifested in part in actual geographic separation between lawyers located in the District of Columbia and those in the South, West, and Midwest. In the center of the network, however, we find some potential “mediators”—prominent lawyers who may facilitate communication and coordination among the several constituencies. These lawyers and the organizations they serve attempt to merge morality, market freedom, and individual liberty concerns, and they convene meetings of diverse sets of lawyers and organizational leaders to seek consensus on policy goals.

Nonetheless, the findings indicate that most organizations are seldom active on issues that lie beyond the relatively narrow boundaries of their own interests.