Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Legal Profession at Law and Society in Baltimore

Last week from 6 to 9 July was the Law and Society Association meeting held in Baltimore. The panels on the legal profession made an excellent showing. Bill Henderson of Indiana-Bloomington put together eight sessions for us.

My paper was given in the first session along with four others. We each had 15 minutes to present our thoughts to a big audience. I gave my paper on globalization and professionalism (Resurgent Professionalism, Anti-Globalization and the Success of the Local Elite Law Firm). Bert Kritzer, of Madison Wisconsin, talked about defence attorneys in personal injury cases ('Daubert' in the Law Office: Routinizing Procedural Change). His work was based on an observation study he had undertaken in Minneapolis. He was followed by Steve Daniels and Joanne Martin of the American Bar Foundation who looked at the other side, that is how personal injury plaintiffs' lawyers decide to take on cases where there are caps on the damages awarded The Turbulent Evolution of the Plaintiffs' Bar: A Decade of Change). Next my colleague, Pablo Sosa of Bremen University, spoke about the role of lawyers providing support structures for clients in complex arbitrations concerning international transactions (Cross-Border Dispute Resolution from the Perspective of Midsized Law Firms).

The last paper was by Mayumi Saegusa of the University of British Columbia (Why the Japanese Law School System Was Established: The Genesis of Institutional Formation). She told us about the moves by the legal establishment in Japan to cope with a crisis in the supply of lawyers in Japan. Japan has a famously low pass rate--under 10%--in its bar exam. In order to produce more lawyers, Japan has created a new stratum of law schools in 2004. Everything else remains the same. Quite unusual and curious.

Among the other legal profession sessions some papers deserve mention. Bill Henderson has been undertaking analysis of law firm data in the AmLaw 200. He's been testing the hypothesis of the promotion to partner tournament elaborated by Marc Galanter and Tom Palay. Some evidence could be adduced to support it. In addition, he is looking at the economic geography of the top US law firms (See Bill's entry on this at the Empirical Legal Studies blog). Within the US Henderson identified a set of global cities--New York, Washington DC, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles--which have shown tremendous growth in lawyers and firms over the last 10 years, often at the expense of other major cities in America.

One moment I anticipated in the conference was seeing my former supervisor and mentor, Jack Heinz of Northwestern University Law School in Chicago. He participated in an "author meets critics" session where they talked about his, and co-authors', book Urban Lawyers: The New Social Structure of the Bar. This was a re-survey of the original Chicago Lawyers study of the 1970s which produced the two-hemispheres model of the legal profession. The scene in 1995 was markedly different with dramatic growth in the numbers and size of large law firms. Differences between corporate and personal plight lawyers were much more extreme than 1975. These two books will define the work in this area for considerable time to come.

I think I may be in at the birth of a new research project. Carole Silver of Northwestern University Law School writes in similar areas to me. We've encountered each other at two previous conferences--in Onati and Indiana-Bloomington--where we have talked about law firms and their governance. We took the opportunity and went to Washington DC to interview the chairman of an AmLaw 50 law firm about his role and perceptions of the firm, legal profession, and globalization. The interview was fascinating: we returned excited and ready to draft a proposal.

Let me finish on an odd note: I did my PhD in sociology at Northwestern on the ethnography of a large law firm. One of the panellists in the legal profession stream, Ryon Lancaster, came up to me at a reception and said, "I just got hold of your dissertation, which I really liked." I was flattered, of course. His next announcement brought me down to earth, "The secretaries in the sociology department at Northwestern were throwing out the old dissertations, so I rescued it!"

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