Academic journal article Law & Society Review

The Changing Character of Lawyers' Work: Chicago in 1975 and 1995

Academic journal article Law & Society Review

The Changing Character of Lawyers' Work: Chicago in 1975 and 1995

Article excerpt

This article compares findings from two surveys of Chicago lawyers, the first conducted in 1975 and the second in 1995. The earlier study indicated that the Chicago bar was then divided into two broad sectors or "hemispheres," one serving large corporations and similar organizations and the other serving individuals and small businesses. Analyses of the structure of co-practice of the fields of law indicate that the hemispheres are now less distinct. The fields are less tightly connected and less clearly organized-they became more highly specialized during the intervening 20 years and are now organized in smaller clusters. Clear indications of continuing separation of work by client type remain, however. Estimates of the amount of lawyers' time devoted to each field in 1975 and 1995 indicate that corporate practice fields now consume a larger share of Chicago lawyers' attention, while fields such as probate receive a declining percentage. Growth is most pronounced in the litigation fields, especially in business litigation. The organizational contexts within which law is practiced both reflect and contribute to these changes. The scale of those organizations has increased greatly, and the allocation of work within them has been divided along substantive, doctrinal lines. As a result, there is a greater disaggregation of work and workgroups within the profession today.

A hypothesis that the urban bar is essentially divided into two Lawyers The Social sectors or areas of practice was propounded in Chicago Lawyers: The Social Structure of the Bar (Heinz & Laumann 1982):

[W]e have advanced the thesis that much of the differentiation within the legal profession is secondary to one fundamental distinction-the distinction between lawyers who represent large organizations (corporations, labor unions, or government) and those who represent individuals. The two kinds of law practice are the two hemispheres of the profession. Most lawyers reside exclusively in one hemisphere or the other and seldom, if ever, cross the equator. (P. 319)

The two sectors of the legal profession thus include different lawyers, with different social origins, who were trained at different law schools, serve different sorts of clients, practice in different office environments, are differentially likely to engage in litigation, litigate (when and if they litigate) in different forums, have somewhat different values, associate with different circles of acquaintances, and rest their claims to professionalism on different sorts of social power. . . . Only in the most formal of senses, then, do the two types of lawyers constitute one profession. (P. 384)

Following the publication of Chicago Lawyers, the two-hemispheres hypothesis became a frequent point of reference in the scholarly literature, but the survey on which that book was based was conducted in 1975. There have since been important changes in the legal profession-women entered the bar in large numbers (Hagan & Kay 1995), the overall size of the profession almost doubled while the size of the organizations within which law is practiced grew even more rapidly (Galanter & Palay 1991; Sander & Williams 1992), the management practices of those organizations became more formal and intrusive (Abel 1989:199-202), and there were substantial changes in the level of demand for particular types of legal services, some increasing while others declined.1 Many of these changes may well have affected the organization of lawyers' work and thus have altered the degree of separation (or lack thereof) of the two hemispheres of law practice.

The purpose of this article is to compare the Chicago findings from 1975 with more recent data concerning patterns of copractice among the fields of law and the extent of specialization by field in order to determine whether the distribution of lawyers' work has changed-that is, whether there is a clear separation between two broad sectors of practice, one serving large organizations and the other serving individuals and small businesses. …

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