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Urban Lawyers

The New Social Structure of the Bar

Over the past several decades, the number of lawyers in large cities has doubled, women have entered the bar at an unprecedented rate, and the scale of firms has greatly expanded. This immense growth has transformed the nature and social structure of the legal profession. In the most comprehensive analysis of the urban bar to date, Urban Lawyers presents a compelling portrait of how these changes continue to shape the field of law today.

Drawing on extensive interviews with Chicago lawyers, the authors demonstrate how developments in the profession have affected virtually every aspect of the work and careers of urban lawyers-their relationships with clients, job tenure and satisfaction, income, social and political values, networks of professional connections, and patterns of participation in the broader community. Yet despite the dramatic changes, much remains the same. Stratification of income and power based on gender, race, and religious background, for instance, still maintains inequality within the bar.

The authors of Urban Lawyers conclude that organizational priorities will likely determine the future direction of the legal profession. And with this landmark study as their guide, readers will be able to make their own informed predictions.

352 pages | 43 line drawings, 10 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2005

Chicago and Illinois

Law and Legal Studies: General Legal Studies

Sociology: Occupations, Professions, Work


"With this twenty-year update, the best snapshot of American lawyers has become a major motion picture. It is theoretically trenchant, methodologically highly sophisticated, and scrupulously careful.  Essential reading for anyone interested in seeking to understand the future of the legal profession from a close reading of its immediate past."
--Richard L. Abel, editor of Lawyers: A CriticalReader

Richard L. Abel

"Urban Lawyers is essential for anyone seeking to understand how the American legal profession reached where it is today and to predict where it may be in years to come. From a cautiously scrutinized empirical base of research data and interviews of Chicago lawyers, these accomplished researchers have compiled an authentic overview of the urban bar in the United States."

Robert MacCrate, former president of the American Bar Association

"An original, provocative study of how the law profession has changed over the past thirty years. The authors argue that this transformation has been driven largely by changes in corporate clients, who over time have grown bigger and have shifted away from manufacturing toward financial and service industries. Lawyers are now more likely to develop specialties and to work in large law firms--trends that have altered their legal work, compensation, and stratification in dramatic ways. Urban Lawyers shows that professions are dynamic institutions that can be changed as their economic and organizational environments are transformed."

Neil Fligstein, University of California, Berkeley

"This landmark study of Chicago lawyers documents dramatic changes over two decades: increasing diversity in both social origins and practice settings, accompanied by rising specialization, declining autonomy, and reduced professional authority and integration. Centering attention on the rising influence of large law organizations in shaping legal careers and practice patterns, Urban Lawyers engages the attention of readers interested in modern organizations and professions as well as in the evolution of contemporary legal practice."

Peter Marsden, Harvard University

"Almost a quarter century ago, John Heinz and Edward Laumann set a new standard for the scientific analysis of major social institutions with their landmark study of the Chicago bar. Urban Lawyers will be indispensable for anyone interested in the legal profession and for scholars throughout the social sciences engaged in the study of how institutions-and the networks, firms, and professions they comprise-evolve over time."

Paul DiMaggio, Princeton University

“The empirical data presented in Urban Lawyers provides readers with a clear-eyed picture of the changes that are reshaping the legal profession. . . . Urban Lawyers offers powerful stuff, especially for law students anxious about entering an increasingly difficult marketplace. In a truly important and memorable study, the volume provides a precise and nuanced assessment of the modern legal profession, in all its empirical complexity.”

William Henderson | Legal Affairs

"Like its predecessor, Urban Lawyers is an excellent and important book. The authors have gathered a vast amount of high-quality data and have painstakingly analyzed it from a variety of angles. The result is a detailed and wide-ranging map of the legal profession during a period of transition. The book will be of great interest to scholars of the legal profession and of the professions more generally. Indeed, it will serve as an indispensable reference point for future research in these areas."

Elizabeth H. Gorman | AJS

Table of Contents


List of Tables and Figures


Part I The Professions of the Bar

Chapter 1 Chicago Lawyers Revisited

Prior Research

The Data

The Issues

Chapter 2 The Changing Character of Lawyers’ Work

with Ethan Michelson

The 1975 "Two-Hemispheres" Finding: Methodological Issues

1995 Patterns of Co-practice

Specialization by Field

Client Differentiation by Field

Allocation of Time in 1975 and 1995


Chapter 3 Integration and Separation

Integrative Mechanisms

Bar Associations

Law School Stratification

Ethnoreligious Differences

Race, Gender, and Family Background

Practice Setting

Structure and Opportunity

Part II The Hierarchies of the Bar

Chapter 4 Prestige

Three Theories of Honor


Determinants of Prestige

Core Economic Values, or Professional Purity

Participation in Prestigious Work


Chapter 5 Organizations

The Economic Dominance of Large Law Firms

Organization-Linked Advantage

A Typology of Law Firms

Democracy and Participation

Professional Autonomy

Determinants of Compensation

Changing Management Policies

Organizing Principles

Hours Worked

Task Structure

Change and Continuity

Chapter 6 Careers

with Kathleen E. Hull

Work History and Careers

Career Stability

The Golden Age and Its Fading

Paths to Eminence in the Profession

Lawyers Not Practicing


Chapter 7 Income and Income Inequality

Structural Sources of Inequality

Nonpracticing Lawyers

Individual-Level Correlates of Income

Equal Justice


Part III Lawyers’ Lives

Chapter 8 Divided Opinions

with Monique R. Payne

The Chicago Data

Differences among Types of Lawyers

Adaptation to Client Values?

Social Values


Chapter 9 Community Roles

with Paul S. Schnorr

The Chicago Data

Overall Participation

Correlates of Overall Participation

Who Participates Where?

Correlates of Participation by Organization Type



Appendix: Period, Age, and Cohort Effects

Chapter 10 Connections within the Bar

The 1975 Networks

The 1995 Networks

The Structure of the Networks

Ethnoreligious and Political Divisions


Appendix: Notables’ Biographies (as of 1994<n>95)

Chapter 11 A Satisfying Profession?

with Kathleen E. Hull and Ava A. Harter

Research on Job Satisfaction

The Chicago Findings

Happy Hour at the Bar?

Part IV Transformation

Chapter 12 The Processes of Change

Autonomy and Influence

The Decline of Professional Dominance


Reasons for Growth

Changes in Firm Structure and Management

Lawyer-Client Relationships

Organizational Boundaries

Business Methods





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