Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Law Firms at the SASE

Last week in Trier, southern Germany, the SASE (Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics) held its annual conference. One of the organisers, Glenn Morgan, held a session on law firms in the global economy.

There were three sets of speakers: Daniel Muzio and James Faulconbridge of Lancaster University, Sigrid Quack of the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin fur Sozialforschung (WZB), and myself.

Muzio and Faulconbridge in their paper, "Reinserting the professional into the study of global professional service firms", argue that in studying the rise of global professional service firms, eg, law firms, we must "reincorporate an understanding of professionalism into discussions". Or, to say another way, professionalism matters, but it may vary according to cultural milieu. The authors draw on a series of interviews with lawyers in global law firms to see how professionalism impacts their management processes. There was a strong belief in lawyer autonomy that contraindicated the success of bureaucratic managerialism. Moreover, practice drives management. One issue that appeared to divide UK and US practice is the system of remuneration. Lockstep seems to indicate collegiality whereas "eat what you kill" breeds individualism. These differences create many tensions for the management of global law firms.

Sigrid Quack examines the development and growth of transnational law as articulated by large law firms in her paper, "Legal professions and transnational lawmaking: a case of distributed institutional entrepreneurship". She refers to legal entrepreneurship as the epitome of this process which takes place within law firms. This places law firms in the position of being both business organisations and regulatory bodies. Quack uses two examples of lawmaking as innovation and regulation, namely, the development of the Maxwell insolvency "Protocol" and Marty Lipton's creation of the "poison pill" defence. Of course there are other organisations involved in these processes, so that "in order to make sense of this great variety of actors and the multiplicity of the ongoing processes, we suggest looking at transnational lawmaking as a case of institutional entrepreneurship under conditions of distributed and embedded agency".

My presentation centred on two papers in process. One was "Lawyers as sanctifiers of value creation" and the second "Resurgent professionalism? partnership and professionalism in global law firms".

There was a high degree of interaction among the papers which we intend to pursue at future meetings. It is rare, however, to find this much interpenetration as we experienced in this session. Often papers are far more self-contained but these presentations created an intellectual conversation that's set to continue.

{For those of you who would like to follow up on economic sociology do have a look at the Economic Sociology Newsletter, the current issue (vol 7, no 3, July 2006) of which is about globalization. Available at economic sociology}

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