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BigLawMoney and Meaning in the Modern Law Firm$
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Mitt Regan and Lisa H. Rohrer

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226741949

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2021

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226742274.001.0001

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Business and Profession: Bridging the Divide

Business and Profession: Bridging the Divide

Chapter:
(p.16) 1 Business and Profession: Bridging the Divide
Source:
BigLaw
Author(s):

Mitt Regan

Lisa H. Rohrer

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226742274.003.0002

This chapter describes the history of the claim that law firm practice is a business rather than a profession from its late-nineteenth century origin to today. The chapter then describes the work of sociologist Eliot Freidson, which conceptualizes a profession as a distinctive way of organizing work in contrast to either market or bureaucratic forms of organization. This perspective has the virtue of situating professional organizations within the economic sphere, which means that they inevitably are shaped by both business and professional values. This understanding of a professional organization clarifies that we must closely analyze its mix of these values and the extent to which they may reinforce or undermine one another. This perspective illuminates that until the last third of the twentieth century many large law firms operated in a legal services market in which they faced little competition. This minimized their need to adopt explicit business practices and enabled them to devote attention to non-financial professional values. Such a privileged position was based on the possession of what is known as "firm-specific capital" in the form of ongoing client relationships. As such relationships have disappeared the challenge for firms today is to find new sources of such capital.

Keywords:   firm-specific capital, profession, market, bureaucracy, law firm

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