2015 Year-End Report

Special Issue • December 2015
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The legal profession in the emerging economies


This transcript is derived from the video above and has been edited for style and for print publication.

Globalization is reshaping everything in our world. In 2010, we realized the importance of globalization in understanding how lawyers and the U.S. legal profession were operating around the world and launched a research initiative called Globalization, Lawyers, and Emerging Economies, or GLEE as we like to call it after the popular TV show. Over the last several years, we’ve put together an incredible research team, including more than 50 researchers around the world who’ve been studying what that name implies: How is globalization reshaping the market for legal services, with a particular emphasis on the important new emerging economies of the world?

We started in India, a place of incredible importance yet one that we thought had been ignored unfairly on the global stage. We then moved to Brazil and most recently to China. We are now coming to the end of the first phase of this project by publishing a series of books, starting with one on India that will be out shortly called The Indian Legal Profession in the Age of Globalization, in which we have 18 different empirical studies conducted by researchers in the United States, the United Kingdom, and India from a variety of different disciplines including law, sociology, economics, and political science. The studies look at everything from the transformation of the large law firm sector in India to the growth of increasingly sophisticated in-house counsel to changes in legal education to pro bono activity to the effects of globalization in the political economy of India to India’s connection with the institutions of global governance like the WTO or the IMF. We have similar projects that feature Brazil and in China and that are now coming to a close. And we’ve discovered some very interesting things. I’ll just choose three of them for now.

The first has to do with the most obvious manifestation of globalization, which is the creation of a new and increasingly sophisticated large law firm sector in each of the countries. If you went back before the early 1990s—before the countries opened up to the world—the overwhelming majority of lawyers were in small or solo practice. There was very little in the way of a distinct corporate sector. Since the 1990s, however, India, Brazil, and China have all developed large and increasingly sophisticated law firms. These firms have often looked at global models, particularly from the United States and the United Kingdom, to pattern their development. But we discovered a very interesting thing about this. Although they may have started out trying to adapt global models, those global models themselves were changing at the very time that the law firms in the emerging economies were attempting to adopt them. Moreover, the firms found that global models didn’t always comfortably fit many of the social, cultural, economic, and political developments inside their countries. So we’ve seen the development of a very interesting hybrid between the models that have come from the United States and the United Kingdom and the models that were developed indigenously in the emerging-economy countries.

We found a similar thing with respect to the changing role of the general counsel. General counsels were even less common in countries like India, China, and Brazil than large law firms. Now, however, we see both in multinational companies and in companies that grew up within these jurisdictions increasingly large and sophisticated general counsel offices. But again, there are important differences between those general counsel offices and the ones in the United States. These differences have to do with things like company type (indigenous companies versus multinational companies versus state-owned enterprises versus private enterprises) or whether a company is export oriented or more domestically focused. These differences are helping to shape the market for legal services in these countries.

Finally, the public sector—or the public-interest sector—is also changing dramatically in each of the countries that we’re studying. Initially, the concept of pro bono legal services was not common in these nations. Now it has become very common. In fact, most of the law firms—and even in-house legal departments—we study have formal pro bono programs. But what’s interesting is that these programs are intersecting with another area that is not as common in the United States: corporate social responsibility. We may be seeing the development of a hybrid model between pro bono legal services, which are directed at indigent clients and unrepresented groups, and corporate social responsibility, which is a much broader concept that companies try to drive throughout their organization. We’re seeing those two things come together in emerging economies, and that may very well have implications here in the United States.

These are the kinds of things that we are investigating through the GLEE project. And we intend to continue to look at these issues in the coming years by moving GLEE first to the Middle East and Africa and then to Russia and the states of the former Soviet Union. We believe that globalization will continue to play a major role in the legal profession, and we intend to study it.

2015 Year-End Report Special Issue • December 2015