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Client Influence and the Contingency of Professionalism: The Work of Elite Corporate Lawyers in China

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This study examines how the professional work of elite corporate lawyers is constructed by influence from different types of clients. The data presented include interviews with 24 lawyers from six elite corporate law firms in China and the author's participant-observation in one of the firms. For these elite Chinese corporate law firms, foreign corporations, state-owned enterprises, and private enterprises constitute their extremely diversified client types. Accordingly, lawyers' work becomes flexible and adaptive to accommodate the different demands of the clients. Meanwhile, client influence on lawyers' professional work is mediated by the division of labor within the corporate law firm: whereas partners have solid control over the process of diagnosis, inference, and treatment and thus enjoy a high degree of professional autonomy, associates are largely stripped of this cultural machinery in the workplace, and their work becomes vulnerable to client influence. As a result, client influence on professional work appears to decrease with a lawyer's seniority.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Chicago

Publication date: December 1, 2006


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