Using Northern Ireland as a case study, this paper explores how lawyers responded to the challenges of entrenched discrimination, sustained political violence and an emerging peace process. Drawing upon the literature of the sociology of lawyering, it examines whether lawyers can or should be more than ‘paid technicians’ in such circumstances. It focuses in particular upon a number of ‘critical junctures’ in the legal history of the jurisdiction and uncouples key elements of the local legal culture which contributed to an ethos of quietism. The paper argues that the version of legal professionalism that emerged in Northern Ireland was contingent and socially constructed and, with notable exceptions, obfuscated a collective failure of moral courage. It concludes that facing the truth concerning past silence is fundamental to a properly embedded rule of law and a more grounded notion of what it means to be a lawyer in a conflict.