This question comes directly out of this comment on Law.SE, on an answer discussing restrictions about who can practice law.

The legal profession is a cartel, protected by laws.

Is there a term that is similar to "cartel" but omits what Dawn describes as "a generally pejorative connotation that implies a purpose of controlling prices or limiting competition," especially looking for a term which would apply to lawyers?

  • 1
    Cartel carries no impolite connotation,it just refer sto a specific market condition where market participants manipulate prices to some extent.
    – user66974
    Mar 28, 2016 at 21:36
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    In the US, you can use association, as in the American Bar Association.
    – jxh
    Mar 28, 2016 at 21:42
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    Syndicate or consortium may convey a more neutral to positive meaning.
    – user66974
    Mar 28, 2016 at 21:43
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    @Josh61 Collusion is a key component of the first definition of cartel that Dawn linked to. That, combined with your second comment above ("Collusion refers to an illegal activity"), indicates "cartel" carries a connotation of illegal activity, conflicting with "protected by laws." Can you see the motivation for this question?
    – WBT
    Mar 28, 2016 at 21:45
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    I disagree with @Josh61: the term "cartel" indeed has acquired negative connotations in U.S. English, as a result of its most common usage in the media and general discourse being in the context of "[illegal] drug cartel". I have even heard it used bare, without the "drug" qualifier, to refer to drug cartels.
    – PellMel
    Mar 28, 2016 at 22:10

2 Answers 2


The legal profession is a guild in the sense of a trade association where all the members have the same interests and that call for levels of knowledge for admission (law school, bar exam). Anyway, they are a cartel. A cartel is an economics term but also used by Jacques Lacan to describe a closed group of individuals working together on a psychoanalytical issue. That said, it has broader usage. There is a very interesting discussion on the broader meaning of cartel as also applying to lawyers.

There is a book called Overcoming Law that is all about this.

  • To quote an earlier answer on this site: "[The term "guild" compared to "association"] has stronger overtones of the members being [traditional] craftsmen with tradeable skills and/or products." english.stackexchange.com/questions/18039/… Lawyers are not crafts people; they are professionals.
    – user167084
    Mar 30, 2016 at 1:49
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    @zeugma "Overtones" do not preclude the use of a word, especially in a context like this one where the entire point is to grab attention. I would say that the fact that guild is normally used for folks that make tangible things makes it a more attractive alternative here, not a less attractive one. Regardless, I think guild has a stronger association with video games than medieval craftsmen these days. watchtheguild.com
    – ColleenV
    Mar 30, 2016 at 4:34

The law is not a cartel, it's a regulated profession. That's not an official term, but lawyers, like architects, like doctors, are individuals who are supervised by regulatory authorities (in the case of lawyers, usually a bar association) that can set requirements for entrance into the profession, Continuing Legal Education, and apply discipline, including suspending or rescinding a lawyer's license to practice law. Lawyers are not a unified group and they're not all private lawyers with businesses like law firms. They are not able to band together and fix prices, as do cartels, which are often illegal. Public defenders, for example, work for the government, as do prosecutors. They are civil servants.

A cartel by contrast, means:

1: a written agreement between belligerent nations

2: a combination of independent commercial or industrial enterprises designed to limit competition or fix prices

3: a combination of political groups for common action

Merriam Webster

  • Given that lawyers, as a group, basically control their own "regulatory authorities" (virtually everyone in the bar association is a lawyer), they do have the ability to control entry to the profession, "punish" members who do not conform to pricing standards, etc. This is what's known as regulatory capture.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 29, 2016 at 13:02
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    This question isn't about whether the legal profession or lawyers is/are a cartel. This is about what word would you use to describe most of what cartel implies but not the part about its members restricting membership with the purpose of limiting market competition or price control.
    – user166568
    Mar 29, 2016 at 15:15
  • Dawn, In answering question it is absolutely relevant whether in fact lawyers are a cartel. That is the example the OP used, and it's been misused throughout.
    – user167084
    Mar 29, 2016 at 17:12
  • There is no organization of humans for which the term "cartel" is not, at times, appropriate.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 30, 2016 at 1:47
  • I understand your point about defining why The Law is not a cartel. In order to make this an answer, you should provide an alternative.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Mar 31, 2016 at 15:37

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