Loyalty Work: Emotional interactions of defence lawyers in Swedish courtrooms

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)

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Defence lawyers’ work takes place in emotionally charged, yet emotionally constraining situations. This is particularly evident in criminal trials. Distressed clients, unforeseeable disruptions, disturbing evidence, emotional plaintiffs and even moral suspicions should all be managed in a proper and appropriate manner. Loyalty Work analyses how this is done in the context of Sweden, with specific focus on criminal trials at district courts. Defence lawyers constitute a category of legal professionals that have received relatively little sociological attention and thus warrant deeper theoretical and empirical understanding.

By drawing on ethnographic fieldnotes from observations of over 50 criminal trials the strategies for performing loyalty and teamwork are revealed. Interviews with 18 lawyers have also been conducted to explore how defence lawyers talk about emotions and their professional role. This empirical material, along with other sources such as the audio recording of a trial, are analysed using dramaturgical theory and theories on emotion work.

The study shows how defence lawyers project a professional impression in line with invisible emotional, interactional and ceremonial expectations. Defence lawyers attempt to represent clients by managing performances in the courtroom– their own, their clients’ and others’ - and by ensuring they remain within the boundaries of the emotional regime of law. Simultaneously, the defence team should present a united front to the court. These strategies involve using emotion work and facework to build up or undermine facts in the trial, by drawing attention towards or away from information presented or by the use of props.

A criminal trial is found to be an inherently emotional and interactional accomplishment with the reproduction of defence lawyers’ loyalty to their clients as a crucial component. Defence lawyers are also expected to ensure that the overarching emotional regime of law with its illusionary dichotomy between rationality and emotionality is upheld. The study concludes that loyalty work demands emotion work, facework and teamwork. The Swedish context is particularly interesting as it calls for subtle drama with understated performances.
Translated title of the contributionLojalitetsarbete: Försvarsadvokaters emotionella samspel i svenska rättssalar
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Sociology
  • Åkerström, Malin, Supervisor
  • Wästerfors, David, Assistant supervisor
Award date2018 Oct 30
Print ISBNs978-91-7753-820-2
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Oct 5

Bibliographical note

Defence details
Date: 2018-10-30
Time: 10:15
Place: Kulturen auditorium, Tegnérsplatsen, Lund
External reviewer(s)
Name: Maroney, Terry A.
Title: Professor
Affiliation: Vanderbilt University, USA

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)


  • Loyalty
  • law
  • emotional regime
  • emotion
  • facework
  • emotion work
  • teamwork


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