As legal profession scholars have observed, law practice is being reinvented at an ever-accelerating speed the world over. Legal services are being routinized, commoditized, outsourced, disaggregated, reassembled, computerized, and unbundled—among associates, law firm partners, solo practitioners, contract lawyers, paralegals, law consultants, temporary law workers, websites, and online shared platforms. In the corporate realm, multinational companies demand that their lawyers be available to provide services 24/7 in every corner of the globe. In the meantime, lawyers representing individuals, non-profits, and NGOs increasingly use new technologies and transnational resources and strategies to develop more effective and efficient models of service delivery. Despite this rapid pace of change, many lawyer regulatory regimes lag behind and continue to hew to a model of regulation tied to geographical jurisdiction and domestic legal norms.
In recent years, the field of the legal profession has benefitted from a proliferation of research by scholars seeking to understand the many changing dimensions of the legal profession. Researchers have drawn on a broad range of social science disciplines, methodological approaches, and multilingual proficiencies to investigate legal practice(s) in a wide variety of geographic settings.
We highlight three aspects of the legal profession that have received attention. First, there has been work on the composition and geographical dispersion of law firms. Examples of the former include, in the US, Marc Galanter and Bill Henderson’s revision of tournament theory as the “elastic tournament”, which can be contrasted with David Wilkins and Mitu Gulati’s reconception of law firm internal labor markets. The geography of the legal profession, both in terms of globalization and styles of professionalism has been a growing field led by Jonathon Beaverstock, Daniel Muzio, Peter Taylor and James Faulconbridge in the UK.
Second, there is a growing body of literature on what lawyers actually do and the ways in which legal services are delivered. Robert Rosen has argued that “we’re all consultants now” as clients motivate lawyers to alter their organizational strategies. Sigrid Quack in Germany has researched on transnational law-making by lawyers. John Flood and Fabian Sosa unpicked the role international lawyers play in transnational business transactions showing their activities were very much a function of the type of law firm with which they associated. Tanina Rostain examined the role of the tax bar in the market for abusive tax shelters and its subtle interpretation of professionalism and gatekeeping. At the other end of the spectrum Sida Liu has described the coping strategies of criminal defense lawyers in China in the face of powerful state opposition, something alien to lawyers in the West.
Third, the field of regulation of lawyers has moved beyond the analysis of lawyers’ ethics traditionally found in the legal journals, i.e. the individual lawyer’s behavior. In countries such as Australia law firms have the power now to incorporate and list themselves on the stock exchange. In the UK in 2011 non-lawyers (e.g. supermarkets; insurance companies) will be able to own law firms. This raises questions over law firms’ ethical responsibility in the face of commercial pressures that appear to conflict with the norms of professionalism as Christine Parker has studied in Australia. Andrew Boon has even asked if we are seeing the globalization of legal ethics. And Laurel Terry has shown how the legal profession is being impacted by the regulatory might of the WTO and GATS. Lawyers and the legal profession are no longer immune from the forces of modernization and globalization.
Given this wealth, this space offers an opportunity to initiate an ongoing discussion about the most interesting work and make it available to a wider audience of legal scholars. With these ends in mind, we have recruited leading scholars from around the world to showcase their favorite exemplars of recent research on lawyers, the legal profession, and lawyer regulation. Contributing editors have been invited to use this platform to highlight the most significant developments in the field and provide access — for researchers mainly working inside the Anglo-American legal tradition — to important work not readily available in English. Our hope is that this section will contribute to the growing global conversations about lawyers’ ideals and lawyers’ practices.