Unhooking from the State: Chinese Lawyers in Transition

Ethan Michelson

The University of Chicago, Department of Sociology

August 2003

Abstract

This dissertation observes contemporary Chinese lawyers at a watershed, a critical historical moment since their revival in 1979. During the time of my field research between 1999 and 2001, Chinese lawyers were at the final stage of "unhooking" from the state, a transition ongoing since the mid-1980s away from their official status as a public profession of "state legal workers" to an official status as a private profession of self-reliant, fiscally autonomous, entrepreneurial practitioners. Their transition from state-sector membership to private-sector membership mirrors a larger transition underway throughout Chinese society as a whole. I argue that the challenges and difficulties lawyers face in their everyday practice, their marginalization and overwhelming sense of insecurity, can only be understood in this larger context. The unclear and weakly protected status of lawyers is manifested in the same array of difficulties private business entrepreneurs have learned to negotiate, including routine administrative interference, official rent-seeking, and police harassment and intimidation. The inseparability of law from politics in the socialist context further exacerbates the vulnerability of lawyers, particularly criminal defense lawyers. Insofar as the plight of lawyers mirrors that of private business entrepreneurs, so too do their adaptive responses. Their dependence on key gatekeepers and decision-makers in government agencies, including judges, prosecutors, and police, has reinforced the importance of social connections and personal relationships as a basis for professional survival and success. In the process of making this argument I provide a history of the reemergence and development of lawyers in post-Mao China; a detailed descriptive overview of the organization of legal work, including the market for legal services and the structure of law firm organization (and variations thereto); a discussion of the uneasy relationship between lawyers and the state both in contemporary China and in historical perspective; and an analysis of the extent and bases of inequality. Evidence is marshaled from a survey I conducted in the summer of 2000 of 980 lawyers in 25 cities across China; from interviews with 67 lawyers, legal scholars, government officials, and journalists; and from observations of 48 lawyer-client consultation sessions observed at a single law firm in Beijing.

 

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Volume One

List of Figures...................................................................................................................... ix

List of Tables..................................................................................................................... xiii

Chronology of Events........................................................................................................ xix

Frequently Used Abbreviations.......................................................................................... xx

Frequently Used Chinese Terms........................................................................................xxi

Note on Currency Conversion........................................................................................... xxii

Note on Citations............................................................................................................. xxiii

Acknowledgements......................................................................................................... xxiv

Abstract......................................................................................................................... xxviii

 

Chapters

1          Introduction: The Scope of the Study and Theoretical Issues................................... 1

Lawyers in a Context of Rapid Change: Marginalization, Insecurity, Vulnerability, and a Poor Public Image............................................................................................... 3

Social Connections in the Legal System: The Guanxi Debate...................... 6

Post-Socialist Transitions............................................................................11

A Poor Public Image................................................................................... 16

Whose Tradition? Which Tradition?........................................................... 24

The Symbolic Significance of Lawyers....................................................... 26

Similarities and Differences........................................................................ 30

2          Research Methods and a Descriptive Overview of Chinese Lawyers...................... 32

Survey Data................................................................................................ 32

Assessing Representativeness.................................................................... 39

Lawyer Categories......................................................................................46

Geographical Distribution of Lawyers in Beijing........................................ 48

Methodological Strategies: The Surveys.................................................... 52

Qualitative Interview and Observational Data............................................ 53

Methodological Strategies: The Qualitative Research................................ 56

3          Tuogou: Law Firms and Their Unhooking from the State....................................... 59

Lawyers as "State Legal Workers": The State-Owned Law Office.............. 59

The Early Stages of "Emancipation"........................................................... 62

Unveiling the Partnership Firm................................................................... 64

Other Firm Categories and Ownership Forms............................................. 66

Establishing a Law Firm............................................................................. 68

Law Firm Names......................................................................................... 70

The Globalization of Law Firms and Legal Practice................................... 74

Explaining Variation in Firm Ownership..................................................... 75

The Significance of the Tuogou.................................................................. 81

4          Lawyers and Politics............................................................................................... 84

Lawyers as a Political Threat..................................................................... 93

Lawyer Purges............................................................................................96

Change and Continuity............................................................................... 99

The Plight of the Criminal Defense Lawyer.............................................. 100

The Administration of Lawyers................................................................. 111

5          Markets for the Services of Lawyers..................................................................... 117

Professional and Unauthorized Competition.............................................117

Determinants of Lawyer Populations........................................................ 120

Lawyer Utilization..................................................................................... 121

Market Sizes............................................................................................. 123

Specialization........................................................................................... 127

Composition of Clients.............................................................................. 133

Status Hierarchy of Fields of Practice....................................................... 137

Markets of Lawyers by Firm Ownership and Local Level of Development 142

Summary.................................................................................................. 148

6          Personal Backgrounds.......................................................................................... 149

Native Place..............................................................................................150

Prior Jobs: Lawyering as a Reemployment Channel................................ 152

Prior Jobs: Former Government Employees............................................. 156

Survey Findings on Prior Career Backgrounds......................................... 158

Survey Findings on Educational Events.................................................... 170

Summary.................................................................................................. 187

7          The Organization of Work..................................................................................... 189

The Solo Character of Legal Practice....................................................... 189

Lawyer-Client Matching Channels............................................................ 192

Billing Clients and Getting Paid................................................................ 199

Legal Aid.................................................................................................. 210

Criminal Defense and Other Trial Work.................................................... 213

Retracting Social Security........................................................................ 218

Extending Political Control....................................................................... 225

Law Firm Composition.............................................................................. 228

Summary.................................................................................................. 238

8          Turbulence and Turnover..................................................................................... 239

Firms Exits................................................................................................ 242

Lawyer Exits............................................................................................. 245

Lawyer Inter-Firm Lateral Moves.............................................................. 248

Discussion................................................................................................. 252

 

Volume Two

9          Social Connections in the Legal System............................................................... 254

The Law on the Books: Anti-Guanxi Regulations...................................... 256

The Law in Action: The Lawyer-Judge Relationship.................................259

The Law in Action: The Perceptions and Experiences of Dangshiren....... 265

The Law in Action: The Fickle and Demanding Dangshiren...................... 268

Case Example 1........................................................................................ 272

Case Example 2........................................................................................ 279

Case Example 3........................................................................................284

Discussion................................................................................................. 285

10         Professional Difficulty........................................................................................... 287

The Private-Sector Handicap.................................................................... 288

The Criminal Defense Handicap............................................................... 288

The Small-City Handicap.......................................................................... 293

Case Example 4........................................................................................ 294

Case Example 5........................................................................................ 298

Case Example 6........................................................................................ 302

Survival Strategies and Aggravating Factors............................................ 306

Case Example 7........................................................................................ 309

The Elite Lawyer's Contempt for the Courts: Legal Avoidance................. 311

Survey Findings........................................................................................ 315

Explaining Work Satisfaction.................................................................... 329

Discussion................................................................................................. 332

11         Inequality..............................................................................................................336

Female Opportunities and Rewards..........................................................341

Summary.................................................................................................. 352

12         Speculations and Conclusions.............................................................................. 353

What Do Chinese Lawyers Want?............................................................. 357

What Do Chinese Lawyers Pursue?.......................................................... 361

They Talk the Talk, But Why Can't They Walk the Walk?......................... 366

Final Thoughts.......................................................................................... 371


 

Appendices

Appendix A      Interview and Field Site Observation Schedules...................................... 373

Appendix B      Chinese Characters for Terms, Proper Nouns, and Place Names.............. 379

Appendix C      Methods for Calculating Sample Weights................................................. 388

Appendix D      Definitions of Selected Variables Used in Multivariate Analyses.............. 390

Appendix E      Methods for Estimating Percentages......................................................... 395

Appendix F      Methods for Estimating Outcomes from Multivariate Models..................... 397

Appendix G     Imputing Missing Lawyer Population for the City of Baoding................... 400

Appendix H      Survival Analysis Methods........................................................................ 401

Appendix I       Cluster Analysis Methods.......................................................................... 407

Appendix J      Methods of Career Event Classification and Analysis................................ 409

Appendix K      Methods of Educational Event Classification and Analysis........................ 433

Appendix L      Complete Results of Multivariate Models Discussed But Not Presented in Main Body (Including Variable Descriptives)........................................................................................ 449

Appendix M     Official Government Data on Lawyers and Courts.................................... 468

Appendix N      Original Survey Instrument Used in Beijing, with Variable Names...........478

Appendix O     English Translation of Survey Instrument Used in Beijing, with Variable Names   488


Bodies of Law and Regulations Cited...............................................................................497

Bibliography.....................................................................................................................500