Legal Practice and Modes of Dying: Bruno Latour, Technology and the Critical Legal Instance


Few who have ever observed the workings of a legal office would have witnessed a lawyer engaged in file management. Of course, lawyers, together with their clients, will construct the narrative that makes up the file, but the lawyer will not store it, nor see that it is properly labeled, nor ensure that its contents are in place, nor dust it, nor, finally, remove it for disposal at the end of whatever time is deemed sufficient for it to perform all of its functions. At a time when lawyers are being criticized for their levels of client care this paper explores the opportunities that the handling of the legal file affords for the development of an ethic of care that can then be transposed more broadly across legal practice. The essence of the argument is that the legal file is (as much as the client) a proper object of care, and that the care of the file – its maintenance and management – is an appropriate objective for lawyers, and necessary for the development of a legal profession that is truly ‘client-centered’. The argument is developed in three parts, and is largely informed by Bruno Latour’s works on being and technology as developed in We Have Never Been Modern, Aramis or the Love of Technology, and particularly, in an essay, published in 2002, entitled ‘Technology and Morality: The Ends of the Means’. The first part explores how the handling of the legal file exposes those engaged in this activity to legal histories, legal philosophies and legal ethics. The second part explores the content or nature of the obligation of care owed toward the file by the keeper of the file. It argues that the legal file represents human passions quelled or suppressed by legal conflict, and that ‘technical action’, falling broadly under the rubric of maintenance and handling, are ways in which care is expressed when the object of care is supine, dead or passing. The concluding part advances the care of technology as a means of preventing technological domination, or, in the terms of legal practice, the care of the file as a means of deflecting the development of a file culture.

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Correspondence to Patricia Tuitt.

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Tuitt, P. Legal Practice and Modes of Dying: Bruno Latour, Technology and the Critical Legal Instance. Law Critique 16, 113–129 (2005).

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  • being
  • Bruno Latour
  • care
  • client care
  • cultural objects
  • death
  • ethics
  • legal practice
  • morality
  • technology