Legal Professions at the Crossroads

by Dariusz Jemielniak (Volume editor)
©2014 Edited Collection 182 Pages


The book collects research-driven chapters from different disciplines: anthropology, sociology, management, and law. It addresses the issues of legal and administrative professionals’ identity, ethics, and workplace enactment. Through an analysis of different groups of lawyers and paralegals, conducted by quantitative or qualitative methods, it draws conclusions on the general condition of these occupations and their role in the society. In particular, the volume covers the issues of criminal judges’ roles, the interplay of law and politics in judicial decisions, and the ways they are standardized. It also addresses the topics of professional logic in public administration, as well as charisma and identity work among lawyers, including LLM students from top world programs. Through an analysis of qualitative interviews, it describes the legal workplace, especially in terms of time commitments. It also disputes the problems of professional ethics in everyday legal work.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Lawyers at the Crossroads
  • The Criminal Judge in Poland in the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries, Empirical Studies
  • The Judicial Role between Law and Politics. A Theoretical Analysis
  • Standardization of Judicial Opinions: Work of Judges in a Changing Environment
  • Competing Logics and Semi-professionals in Polish Public Administration
  • Postmodern Legal Condition: A Charisma in Transition
  • Negotiating What Makes a Lawyer LLM Students’ Self-perception and the Quest for Professional Identity
  • After UIBE LL.M.: A Study of Legal Careers of UIBE LL.M. Graduates
  • Structure and Agency in Law Firms: Qualitative Analysis of Long Work Hours Phenomenon
  • The Problem of Scope of Professionals’ Moral Responsibility and Its Applications in Legal Ethics
  • Biographical Notes

← 6 | 7 → Lawyers at the Crossroads

Dariusz Jemielniak

„Legal Professions at the Crossroads“ is a project resulting from a research grant from Polish National Science Center (grant agreement no. 4116/B/H03/2011/40), and was possible thanks to a visiting invitation from Harvard Law School (The Labor&Worklife Program) and a sabbatical leave generously granted by Kozminski University.

The empirical question we want to address is, in short, what are the cultural changes in organizational and managerial practices used in knowledge-intensive environment on the example of legal advice companies in particular, and paralegals and administrative workers in general.

Knowledge-intensive environments are commonly described as if they were supra- or a-cultural (Alvesson, 1995, 2004; Jemielniak, 2012). In fact, they are often treated as homogenous and globally similar (Starbuck, 1992). However, there are good reasons to assume that, like in other fields, the organization of knowledge-intensive workplace is very much dependent on cultural-historical context (Hofstede, 1980). These differences contribute to the ongoing development of organizations, providing it with both opportunities and problems, and in many cases may have major, if not crucial influence on organizational performance. In the same time, many of the knowledge-intensive organizations from different countries are in fact similar in some aspects (Newell, Robertson, Scarbrough, & Swan, 2002).

It seems that some features of knowledge intensive organizations in general, and legal companies in particular, are universal, while others are very much locally dependent. This topic is yet understudied, but it is of utter significance for legal companies organization and management: understanding cultural background and local entanglement of workplace relations may lead not only to advancing management science, but also to developing new practices useful for HRM in legal corporations (Horibe, 1999; Amar, 2002).

This book tries to to analyze the paradox of rhetorical ambivalence present in knowledge-intensive work. Even though managerial literature often points to, and even recommends, an egalitarian and democratic approach to that group of employees (Horibe, 1999; Amar, 2002; Newell, et al., 2002), other research findings attest that the reality of work in K-I organizations is quite different (Kunda, 1992; Hochschild, 1997; Perlow, 2003). Especially in the case of legal practice, where ← 7 | 8 → on one hand procedure and standardization of work are of utter importance (Sweet & Meiksins, 2008), but on the other lawyers need to have significant level of freedom and intellectual leeway to perform their work, this mixture of authoritarian and democratic approaches is particularly interesting. Since it to wide extent is under a strong influence of organizational and national culture, drawing conclusions from comparative studies may lead to important and practical findings.

Many authors believe that 21st century will bring significant changes to contemporary organizations and management, because of the increasing role of knowledge and knowledge workers (Castells, 1996; Stewart, 1997; Styhre & Sundgren, 2005). Indeed, the changes happening over the last 20 years in occupational roles (including the managerial ones), as well as in the very meaning of work, especially in knowledge-intensive environment are by no means small. Understanding of work and of legal profession in knowledge-intensive environment has evolved from the traditional industrially-bureaucratic model, in which the standardization of work process, planning, structural design, control, and formalization are most important (Mintzberg, 1993). As a result, identity shaping, indoctrination, and creation of emotions become parts of managers’ routine, or at least scope of interest (Jackall, 1988; Kärreman & Alvesson, 2004; Magala, 2009). So does trust management and creation (Latusek, 2007; Ciesielska & Iskoujina, 2012; Latusek & Cook, 2012). However, the extent of this change and its universality are still a matter of academic dispute, in lack of sufficient solid, qualitative research.

Also, the evaluation of employee’s work becomes more dependent on his/her intentions and loyalty than just the result. In knowledge work, and especially among lawyers, evaluation of an employee is often correlated to time spent at work, manifestations of dedication, such as coming back from vacation in case of a crisis, putting family second, etc. (Perlow, 1997, 1998; Cooper, 2000; Jemielniak, 2009). Some legal companies even openly take pride in sacrificing employees’ time, e.g. DLA Piper, placed the following advertisement1 in the press:

When a client in California was acquiring a company In Norway, our Norway-based team changed its workday by nine hours – to US time – to better serve the client.

Since lawyers’ work is difficult to evaluate by controlling its process, legal companies develop different practices for appraising its employees performance. Comparing these methods across organizations is essential in better understanding the cultural background of knowledge work.

← 8 | 9 → Additionally, lawyers are one of the oldest profession and the classical example of knowledge workers. Still, they are often considered to be a conservative occupation, in no way in the avant guarde of the new paradigm of work (Freidson, 2001; Winter & Taylor, 2001; Jemielniak, 2005; Latusek & Jemielniak, 2007). In fact, they are often considered to be one of the most formal professions. They are in the same time one of the most traditional occupations, and the definitive example of knowledge-workers – and these are often predicted to soon revolutionize current organization of workplace and management (Cortada, 1998; Alvesson, 2004; Davenport, 2005). This makes lawyers particularly interesting object of study, so as to draw conclusions on HRM practices in K-W environment.

The aim of this book is to describe the workplace of knowledge workers in detail on the example of several research projects and demonstrate their practical conditions on the basis of research „grounded“ in field studies (Glaser & Strauss, 1967), to study the emerging „hybrid“ models of organizing (Ciesielska, 2010), and their interplay with career models and identities (Bourne & Özbilgin, 2008; Bourne, 2010).

These phenomena are still yet insufficiently researched and described especially from a cross-cultural perspective. Although many studies have delved into the issue of particular organizations or of national changes in labor, there are virtually no qualitative researchers analyzing the shifts in modern work across nations, and in particular studying the best practices in knowledge work, from the point of view of the worker. There are far too few studies of this sort focusing specifically on lawyers, even though their influence on trade, economy and the society in general is unprecedented. The organizational and managerial practices in knowledge work, and especially in legal companies, are only beginning to be thoroughly delved into (Mosco & Stevens, 2007; Sveiby, 2007) in organization studies. Moreover, legal companies operate in an environment, which becomes more and more international. They also increasingly recruit on the international level, and the LLM programs worldwide attract lawyers from different cultures. It is clear then that the international and multicultural dimension becomes more and more important for the practice of legal companies, in the wake of rapid increase of international trade, as well as the growth of global legal corporations.

Taking this into account, and also the utter importance of knowledge-intensive work in the general economic and organizational development (Huggins & Izushi, 2007; Styhre, 2008), as well as the huge influence that organizational and occupational culture has on its effectiveness (Davenport, 2005; Koźmiński, Jemielniak, & Latusek, 2009), it is clear that the topic is very important not only for Academia, but also for the practice of HRM in legal companies.

← 9 | 10 → The presented volume is a reply to the call for „going back to the roots“ (Barley & Kunda, 2001) and analysis of work as a separate phenomenon, through research on the real organizational practices, perceptions of the profession, and the concepts important to it, instead of generating more theoretical concepts that are simply detached from the reality of the social actors.

The book is highly interdisciplinary: it involves methods and study foci from anthropology, sociology, management, and law. Also the methods used are not coming from the functional paradigm currently dominant in management science (Jeffrey Pfeffer, 1993; Jeffrey Pfeffer, 1995; Van Maanen, 1995b, 1995a), as they are embedded in interpretive studies. This approach is most relevant for the study of new phenomena, as well as for gathering soft, cultural data, which makes it ideal for a study of knowledge workers’ culture in different countries (Denzin & Lincoln, 2003).

Most of the contributors assume an ostensive, and not demonstrative perception of culture (Latour, 1986; Jemielniak, 2002), which means that it is meant to describe the perception of knowledge workers’ environment in their own eyes, instead of favoring one prior theoretical model (the researcher assumes that the participants of a given culture understand and know it best, and assuming an artificial, pre-prepared model for interpreting the culture leads to deprecating valuable field material). Following the state-of-the-art methodology, the collected chapters in general do not start-off with a set of hypotheses, but aims to allow the perception of the studied group form the main axis of the research (Lincoln & Guba, 2000; Denzin & Lincoln, 2003). In this sense, the chapters describe the categories meaningful and important for the researched and often benefit from qualitative insight (Kociatkiewicz & Kostera, 1999; P. Krzyworzeka, 2008; A. Krzyworzeka & Krzyworzeka, 2012; P. Krzyworzeka, 2012). They aim to understand the occupational logic of the knowledge workers.

The structure of the book is as following:

Jadwiga Królikowska and Jarosław Utrat-Milecki present empirical studies of the criminal judge workplace in Poland. By the use of Foucauldian analysis, they delve into the changes in the current status of a judicial role. They analyze the shifts in power and social expectations towards criminal judges, the growing bureaucratization (a sure signal of increased organizational control, and possibly an incoming deskilling) and draw conclusions for the future of this profession.

Michał Kaczmarczyk delves into the issue of the judicial role in the society. He presents the interplay of political and legal influences on the judge role enactment. The dichotomy he investigates in some cases results in a synergy of argumentation, yet in some leads to obvious contradictions. He concludes with a more general, sociological proposal of evaluating judicial activism.

← 10 | 11 → Tomasz Raburski and Maciej Wojciechowski continue the topic of judges as knowledge workers. They also propose reviewing the judicial roles in terms of their centrality in the legal systems. They forewarn of a bureaucratic transformation occurring in courts, and focus on the techniques used by judges in their actual proceedings; zeroing in particular on standardization of written output (judicial opinions).

Przemysław Hensel and Beata Glinka also take a look at professional logics, but shift their attention to the public administration. In their analysis of professional identities of public servants they try to understand the institutional forces (and in particular, practices, beliefs, as well as values) that have the most profound effect on actual decisions and actions of these actors. Their institutional study of organizational fields leads to a conclusion that public servants undergo a conflict of three competing logics.

Marta Bucholc approaches the topic of archetypes of lawyers by commenting on the image of a lawyer in a popular culture (as depicted in TV shows, movies, and fictional literature). She is interested in legal professions role enactment and the Weberian rationalization of law. By considering the alternative models of legal education, she draws conclusion for the postmodern condition of lawyers, and comments on the development of specialization, as well as legal standards in general.

In a similar effort, Małgorzata Adamczyk attempts to understand the self-perception and identity enactment of LL.M. students at an Ivy League university. Through an unusual mix of ethnographic and netnographic analysis (Adamczyk, 2009) she shows that a model, typical lawyer is likely non-existent. The studied community showed a surprising resistance to being labeled as typical lawyers, in spite of acceptance of common stereotypes about legal work.

Haiyan Zhou also studies of LL.M. graduates, but concentrates on the career development in China. Through a quantitative analysis of one cohort, she shows the distribution of career paths, and the preferences of prospective employees in terms of importance of job post characteristics. She shows the differences in satisfaction at work, perception of being on the right track in terms of professional development, and correlations with private life. These findings shed new light on the emerging field of legal professionals in China, trained and working in international environment.

In the next chapter, Paweł Krzyworzeka employs the results of his qualitative study to research the problem of long hours at work. Bringing anthropological insight into an analysis of lawyers’ commitment, he uses his empirical results to create a more general interpretation of the role of time in modern workplace. His analysis relies on a perspective shared by the studied, rather than on a ← 11 | 12 → preconceptualized model. As a result, he is able to bring a new perspective on the topic of time spent at work, as perceived by lawyers themselves.

In the final chapter, Paweł Skuczyński shifts the focus to the area of ethics. He analyzes the interplay between individual and professional ethics. He follows with studying practical and theoretical consequences of the emerging issue of moral responsibility, also in a normative sense, as contrasted with a legal responsibility. He considers the possibilities of civil disobedience, and presents the possible ways of avoiding the conflict of contradicting ethics: de-professionalization, de-personalization, and basically the acceptance of conflicts as irresolvable.


Adamczyk, M. (2009). Język sieciowych dyskusji w oczach samych dyskutantów. In D. Ulicka (Ed.), Tekst (w) sieci. Tekst, język, gatunki. Warszawa: Wydawnictwa Akademickie i Profesjonalne.

Alvesson, M. (1995). Management of knowledge-intensive companies. Berlin; New York: W. de Gruyter.

Alvesson, M. (2004). Knowledge work and knowledge-intensive firms. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Amar, A. D. (2002). Managing knowledge workers: unleashing innovation and productivity. Westport, Conn. - London: Quorum Books.

Barley, S. R., & Kunda, G. (2001). Bringing work back in. Organization Science, 12(1), 76-95.

Bourne, D. (2010). On identity reformation and local transition: a case from Poland. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 23(6), 710-730.

Bourne, D., & Özbilgin, M. F. (2008). Strategies for combating gendered perceptions of careers. Career Development International, 13(4), 320-332.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (July)
Rechtsidentität Anthropologie Soziologie Rechtsethik
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 182 pp.

Biographical notes

Dariusz Jemielniak (Volume editor)

Dariusz Jemielniak is Associate Professor at Kozminski University (Poland) and heads the Center for Research on Organizations and Workplaces (CROW). His research interests include knowledge work and open collaboration projects.


Title: Legal Professions at the Crossroads