Sunday, September 30, 2012

Paper on “Peel-Off” Law Firms in India

Professor Jayanth Krishnan at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law has posted a paper titled Peel-Off Lawyers: Legal Professionals in India's Corporate Law Firm Sector, which studies the phenomenon of lawyers leaving big law firms to set up their own practices. The paper is available on SSRN.
The abstract of the paper is as follows:
This study is about hierarchy within the legal profession – how it presents itself, how it is retained, and how it is combated. The socio-legal literature on this subject is rich, with many roots tracing back to Professor Marc Galanter’s famous early 1970s article on the ‘Haves’ and ‘Have-Nots.’ Galanter’s piece and the work of those influenced by him rightly suggest that resources – institutional, financial, and demographic – contribute to whether lawyers are, and remain as, part of the ‘Haves.’ Yet, while resources of course greatly matter, as this study will argue other forces are significant as well. One set, in particular, relates to what the social-psychology literature has termed mobbing – a phenomenon that contributes to the reinforcing of hierarchy through certain aggressive and passive tactics that those with power use to consolidate their reigns and hinder the upward mobility of the employees beneath them. In a legal professions setting, the result can be an environment where ‘Have-Not’ lawyers within an office are commonly left to feel insecure, powerless, and stuck in the legal employment positions in which they find themselves.

To evaluate how resources and mobbing interact, this study returns to the place from where Galanter’s original inspiration for the ‘Haves’ article came: India. The results of a multi-year ethnography are presented on the Indian corporate bar. Since India liberalized its economy in 1991, numerous Indian corporate law firms have thrived, even post-2008. But often steep professional pyramids exist within these firms – perpetuated by those with power exerting a combination of resource-advantages and mobbing-techniques – that can leave lower-level lawyers feeling excluded from this success. To combat this hierarchical status quo, unhappy lawyers are increasingly peeling-off to start their own new law firm enterprises. Peel-off lawyers are thus seeking to become the new ‘Haves.’ However, the goal for peel-off lawyers is not solely to earn higher incomes but also to create environments that are more democratic, transparent, and humane. As this study argues, such opportunities are now possible because of a more liberal, globalized economy, and given the commitment to greater egalitarian norms, this development is indeed welcome, especially as the next generation of corporate lawyers emerges within India.

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