The Legal Profession: Client Interests, Professional Roles, and Social Hierarchies

There is a natural urge to study the extreme. The extreme case is likely to be conspicuous and dramatic. Sociological research on the American legal profession has not, for the most part, resisted the urge. The best-known studies examine lawyers at the extremes of the profession’s prestige hierarchy-e.g., Carlin’s study of solo practitioners and Smigel’s study of the Wall Street lawyer. The profession’s center has more often been neglected and few data are available on the bar’s overall social structure. Ladinsky’s study .of Detroit lawyers covers all types and specialities, and contributes substantially to our understanding of the profession’s general social structure, but it rests on a limited data base. Rueschemeyer’s commentary on the legal profession has a broader, comparative viewpoint and includes useful theoretical propositions, but it presents no original data on American lawyers.

This Article attempts to supply some of that data by systematically describing and analyzing the social structure of the legal profession in a major city. The Article first describes the types of differentiation that might be expected within the profession, and then examines the extent to which those differences in fact occur within the Chicago bar. It concludes that the most important determinant of the profession’s social organization is the impact on the bar of client interests rather than of forces generated within the profession or compelled by the logic of the law. Finally, the Article compares law with medicine to demonstrate why the characteristics of the persons served more significantly determine the profession’s structure in law than in medicine.