Break with tradition : the impact of the legal profession and the dominant paradigms of legal practice, legal needs and legal services on the development of law centres in Strathclyde and the West Midlands
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This thesis takes as its starting point the proposition that the restricted development of law centres in the United Kingdom has been a result of the exercise of power by the legal profession. This was based on the evidence of the legal profession's influence on the initial development of public legal services policy and the profession's active opposition to the emergence of the first law centres in the United Kingdom. However, law centres remained on the margins of public legal services policy, despite the retreat of the profession from its original position. Thus, it was suggested that the key issue was not simply the power of the profession, but also the power of the dominant paradigms of legal practice, legal needs and legal services. This is reflected in the private practice and casework orientation of the legal aid system. Law centres challenge the dominant paradigms in many ways. They offer a multi-faceted approach to the resolution of the legal and socio-economic problems of the poor and do so in a not-for-profit, community-controlled and often collectivist context. Through quantitative and qualitative techniques employed in a multiple case study setting, this study sought to test the 'power hypothesis' empirically. Focusing on all of the law centres operating at any time between 1974 and 1997 in Strathclyde and the West Midlands, detailed accounts of significant events and periods in each centre's birth, life and, where appropriate, death were constructed. The thesis provides for the first time a social historical narrative of the development of law centres in these two locations. These accounts reveal that the profession and the dominant paradigms have had an impact on law centres in many significant ways. However, several of the greatest difficulties faced by law centres cannot be explained by reference to this conceptual framework. Accordingly, the thesis concludes that a wider theoretical framework is required to explain the development of law centres. This wider framework must draw on several existing traditions. It should recognise the importance of community, local and ethnic politics; social exclusion and ethnicity; and organisational and change management. However, it must also recognise the power of the legal profession and the dominant paradigms, as the additional challenges this brings distinguish the experience of law centres from that of other radical, community organisations.
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