The Center is involved in a number of research projects on the legal profession. Some of our projects are detailed below.
Law Firm Culture Project
This project, which we are co-sponsoring with the American Bar Foundation (ABF), has received $185,000 in funding from the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC). The goal of the study is to gain a better understanding of the factors that shape culture and drive behavior in large law firms. The project will combine insights from research on organizational culture, the social psychology of decision making, and law firm structure and operations by involving scholars from each of these fields.
Collaborators with Mitt Regan on the project are Professors Elizabeth Chambliss of New York Law School; John Darley of the Princeton Psychology Department and Woodrow Wilson School, and Ann Tenbrunsel, a scholar of organizational behavior at the Notre Dame Business School. Professor Chambliss has both a J.D. and a PhD. in Sociology, and has done extensive empirical work on law firm organizational structures. Professors Darley and Tenbrunsel are among the world’s foremost scholars of ethics in organizational settings. Of particular interest to the project are the cultural and ethical implications of distinctive features of law firms compared to corporations, such as a relatively flat organizational hierarchy, authority that is dependent less on formal position and more on interpersonal negotiation, and the longstanding tradition of individual autonomy of lawyers who think of themselves as independent professionals and not organizational employees.
The research team completed several interviews this academic year hopes to complete interviews with the second firm in the project by the end of the summer. We have been coding interview transcripts and discussing themes that may be emerging from the research, as well as a potential article on the social psychological dynamics of law firm compensation systems. We also have recently received confirmation that a third major global firm has agreed to participate in our study.
We are in the final stages of compiling data from the first comprehensive study of our graduates. Mitt Regan is collaborating on this project with survey research expert Professor Donna Morrison of the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute and Juliet Aiken. The National Opinion Research Center (NORC) of the University of Chicago has responsibility for administering and collecting raw data from the survey. The instrument has been sent to all members of the Law Center classes of 1977, 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005, and 2008, for a total of over 5,000 graduates.
In designing the survey, we had discussions with various departments at the Law Center to determine the kind of information that would enable these departments to evaluate and improve their contributions to the goals of the law school. In addition, we initiated conversations with scholars on the legal profession, with the aim of ensuring that the project generates information that will help test and develop conceptual frameworks for understanding the dramatic changes that are occurring in the profession. We also hope to build on the information that we obtain to analyze the experiences of lawyers in comparison with other occupations in the United States post-industrial knowledge economy -- particularly with respect to what sociologists of organizational behavior have described as an emerging new “psychological contract” between employees and employers. Finally, an important consideration in designing the survey has been to adequately capture the experiences of women and minority graduates.
Professional Career Track Project
This project is gathering information on the creation of permanent salaried lawyer positions in law firms as an alternative to partnership-track associate positions. Preliminary evidence is these career opportunities are increasing even as firms reduce hiring of traditional associates. The survey aims to generate data on questions such as how firms are defining the responsibilities of those who occupy these positions, the career paths open to them, the training and professional development resources devoted to them, their perceived status within firms, whether non-partnership track lawyers are better able to balance work and personal demands compared to others, and the percentage of women and minorities in these positions. Mitt Regan, Heather Bock, and Lisa Rohrer are working with the Law Firm Professional Development Consortium and consulting firm Hildebrandt Baker Robbins on this project.
Predictors of Associate Career Advancement
This project, run by Heather Bock, Center Research Affiliate Lori Berman and Center Deputy Director Juliet Aiken, assesses the relative influence of legal and non-legal competencies in law firm associate advancement. This project focuses in particular on personal characteristics, preferences, and motivations that affect an associate’s mindset and the way that he or she works.