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Lawyers, State Officials and Significant Others: Symbiotic Exchange in the Chinese Legal Services Market

  • Sida Liu (a1)
Abstract

In China's legal services market, lawyers face strong competition from a variety of alternative legal service providers. Based upon 256 interviews with law practitioners and public officials, three years of ethnographic work on a professional internet forum, and extensive archival research, this article develops a theory of symbiotic exchange to analyse the competition between lawyers, basic-level legal workers and other practitioners in ordinary legal work, as well as how the state regulates these competing occupational groups. It argues that the dynamics of professional competition in the Chinese legal services market can be explained by the symbiotic exchange between law practitioners in the market and their regulatory agencies and officials in the state. Chinese lawyers have a weak market position because their exchange with the state is often not as strong and stable as their competitors. The prevalence of symbiotic exchange leads to the structural isomorphism between market and state institutions in China's transitional economy.

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14 Blau, Peter M., Exchange and Power in Social Life (New York: Wiley, 1964).

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17 Michelson, “Lawyers, political embeddedness, and institutional continuity,” pp. 357–58.

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19 Beijing, Gansu, Guangdong, Hebei, Heilongjiang, Henan, Ningxia, Shanghai, Shanxi, Sichuan and Zhejiang.

20 The interview codes are in the form of ‘‘IN06123,’’ in which ‘‘IN’’ is the abbreviation for “interview,” ‘‘06’’ is the year in which the interview was conducted (e.g. 2006), ‘‘1’’ is the sub-project number and ‘‘23’’ is the number of the interview under that sub-project in that year. The ACLA forum data are coded in the form of “F#123456,” in which “F” refers to the forum, and “#123456” is the number of the first message in a thread as it appears on the forum. The archival data are coded in the form of “DDSF_199503” in which “DDSF” (Dangdai sifa, or Modern Judicature) is the pinyin abbreviation of the Chinese title of the newspaper or journal, and “199503” is the year (e.g. 1995) and issue (e.g. Issue 3) of the publication.

21 Jiali, Xu, Zhonghua minguo lüshi zhidu shi (History of Lawyers in the Republic of China) (Beijing: Zhongguo zhengfa daxue chubanshe, 1998).

22 Cai Dingjian, History and Change, p. 65.

23 China Law Yearbook (Beijing: Zhongguo falü nianjian bianji weiyuanhui, 1989).

24 Gallagher, Mary E., “Mobilizing the law in China: ‘informed disenchantment’ and the development of legal consciousness,” Law & Society Review, Vol. 40 (2006), pp. 783816.

25 Fu Yulin, Research on Rural Basic-Level Legal Services, p. 9.

26 Michelson, “Unhooking from the state.”

27 Data for lawyers are from the China Law Yearbook (1987–2007). Data for basic-level legal workers are from the China Law Yearbook (1987–99) and the China Justice Administration Yearbook (2000–02). From 2002, statistics on basic-level legal workers have disappeared from the public statistics in the yearbooks. The numbers of basic-level legal workers and their firms in 2006 were acquired by a research assistant from the Ministry of Justice.

29 Sida Liu, “Beyond global convergence.”

30 Fusen, Zhang, Sifa buzhang tan sifa xingzheng (The Minister of Justice Discussing Justice Administration) (Beijing: Falü chubanshe, 2006).

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