Document Type



Immigration Law | Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility | Legal Profession


As the practice of law has become increasingly specialized, specialty bar associations have become more important to the work lives of many lawyers and their understanding of professional norms. This article looks at the role of a single specialty bar association - the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) - in the construction of its members’ norms and values. The article draws on semi-structured interviews with 71 immigration lawyers in the New York City metropolitan area to identify the ways in which specialty bars foster lawyers’ understanding of professional norms - both formally and informally - through education, information sharing, mentoring, and other mechanisms. The article identifies some of the specific norms and values that are communicated within this bar, including what it means to be a good lawyer. It also considers what happens when a bar association raises lawyers’ awareness of ethical issues but fails to clearly communicate what response is required of its members. It concludes by considering the conditions that seemingly permit a specialty bar to flourish and become an important site of professional learning and socialization.