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January 2003

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INTRODUCTIONThe Editors of the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy have specifically requested that I address in this essay some research I finished quite a while ago, but to which I hope to return in the near future, concerning the history of the first national legal committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). (1) Therefore, I plan to raise a big picture question left unanswered by that earlier research here: how should we understand lawyers' class interests in relation to their involvement in the development of legal ethics rules concerning public interest law practice? This is a question that David Wilkins led me to think about as a result of his comments on some research I published on the first national legal committee of the NAACP. (2) I will argue here that a fruitful avenue for further research on the intersection between class interests and professional regulation in the arena of public interest (3) law is a focus on the operation of elite lawyers' power in this context. This approach would seek to formulate ethical meanings and values that encourage lawyers to become involved in public interest projects, but also impose strong norms compelling restraint and critical reflection about lawyers' use of their power in this context.To present this argument, I first briefly summarize my research on the first national legal committee of the NAACP and Wilkins' reaction to my conclusions. I then sketch some of the leading approaches to the question of how to theorize class interests in the development of professional ethics rules. Finally, I end with some preliminary conclusions and future research directions.