Hierarchy and Stratification in the Israeli Legal Profession

By Kricheli-Katz, Tamar; Rosen-Zvi, Issi et al. | Law & Society Review, January 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

Hierarchy and Stratification in the Israeli Legal Profession


Kricheli-Katz, Tamar, Rosen-Zvi, Issi, Ziv, Neta, Law & Society Review


Hierarchy and stratification characterize labor markets all over the Western world. Racial, ethnic, and national minorities; women; and those belonging to lower socioeconomic classes are underrepresented in prestigious positions and overrepresented in lower-paying jobs in proportion to their percentage in the general population. Even when employed in similar positions, members of devalued social groups earn lower wages and are promoted less frequently. The legal profession is no different. Decades of research have clearly shown that the market for legal services follows the same patterns that determine the outcomes in other domains of social and economic life (see, e.g., Carson 2004). Yet in the spirit of Tolstoy's famous maxim, while all egalitarian labor markets are alike, each hierarchical market is stratified in its own way. Stratification is based on numerous distinctive characteristics such as the legal profession's structure, size, and degree of homogeneity, as well as the regulations governing it and the legal culture it exists in. Likewise, factors related to the general social structure-such as the stratification in broader society and the social role of the legal profession-also affect stratification within the legal profession. In this paper we seek to contribute to the literature on hierarchy and stratification within the legal profession through an in-depth examination of the patterns of inequality in the Israeli legal profession.

Israel is a particularly interesting case study due to the rapid and inordinate transformation the Israeli legal profession has undergone over the past two decades. The Israeli legal field comprised a small, homogenous, and closed profession until the 1990s, but doubled in size every decade since; today, Israel holds the dubious title of the country with the highest rate of lawyer per capita in the world. Thus, examining patterns of inequality within the Israeli legal profession can shed light on the ways in which systems of inequality reproduce themselves under conditions of dramatic social changes, such as the massive recent growth in the number of lawyers.

Up until the mid-1990s, the Israeli legal profession was virtually blocked to large segments of the population. Accredited law schools existed only at four universities; consequently, the average number of law graduates admitted annually to the bar between 1948 (when the state was established) and 1994 remained steady at 337 (Zer-Gutman 2012). Resultantly, only an elite group of people could become lawyers in Israel. The early 1990s witnessed a revolution in legal education. On the supply side, a shift in the regulatory regime enabled the opening of many new law colleges-professional schools that operate independently of the research universities. In conjunction, a growing demand for legal education resulted in a sharp rise in the number of lawyers during a very short period of time. As of 2016, 14 law schools operate in Israel: four in universities and 10 in colleges. Whereas in 1990 there were only 10,697 lawyers, currently, 64,000 lawyers are registered with the Israel Bar Association: one lawyer per 132 people (Zalmanovitsh 2017). This ratio is likely to grow (although perhaps at a slower pace), since every year approximately 3,000 law graduates are licensed as lawyers.

The accreditation of law colleges during the 1990s and the early 2000s led to a dramatic change in the composition of the Israeli legal profession. Population groups previously largely excluded from the profession-which traditionally was dominated by males of Ashkenazi (European Jewish) origin-are increasingly gaining entry. Women, Arabs (i.e., Palestinian citizens of Israel), Jews of Mizrahi (North-African and Middle-Eastern) origin, and ultra-Orthodox Jews now comprise a large proportion of the profession. Since the annual number of law college graduates greatly exceeds that of the university law school graduates, and the former tend to be of lower socioeconomic status than the latter, the social and cultural elite's domination of the legal profession has been disrupted. …

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