Do Norwegian lawyers mobilize only to enhance their privileges and prestige? Or do they also engage in collective action for more noble ends? Contrary to materialist approaches, the theory of the ‘legal complex’ predicts that the legal profession will struggle as an entity for ‘political liberalism’ – a moderate state with basic civil rights and freedoms. This presents a paradox for the Nordic countries. Lawyers are not especially visible in the public sphere yet political liberalism is more deeply entrenched than elsewhere. If correct, this suggests either a case of Nordic exceptionalism or a problematic theory.
This paper focuses on Norway. Beginning with the emergence of lawyers in the 1600s, it traces the legal profession’s engagement with the development and defense of political liberalism. This is complemented by a quantitative content analysis of interventions by the Advokatforeningen (law society). The paper argues that the results should prompt us to rethink legal complex theory more generally. The legal profession will only mobilize broadly for political liberalism when: (1) committed individual lawyers are able to overcome collective action dilemmas in the profession and (2) lawyer-centric forms of mobilization are viewed as less costly or more appropriate than the alternatives.