China underwent tremendous changes in social systems during the Republican period. Among these changes was the government's introduction into Chinese society of a new legal profession based on Western ideology. Relying mainly on Shanghai archival records, previous scholarship has suggested that, unlike the traditional litigation masters who had always been despised by the authorities, the new Chinese lawyers quickly rose to respectable social and economic status. However, the historical findings presented in the current article challenge this perception by showing that in a city with a more deeply rooted indigenous legal tradition and less influence from Western lawyers, as in Beijing, the new Chinese lawyers faced resistance from the legacy of the old legal culture that permeated the new system. For a considerable period of time after the establishment of the Republic, the people of Beijing still continued to hire unqualified, “phony” lawyers in lawsuits, and some of these phony lawyers had previously been litigation masters under the Qing dynasty. Although legal reform was instigated by the central government as a unified policy, its implementation was bound to vary in different regions according to the influence of the traditional legal culture. It is clear that the situation in Shanghai and other treaty ports does not represent the situation throughout the entire country, nor even in other coastal regions. Therefore, to make more sense of legal reform in China, one should evaluate the development of legal reform in a particular city or region against its social and ideological backdrop. This approach may provide insights not only into the legal reform of the Republican period, but also into the post-Mao era when once again a modern legal system based on the Western model has been introduced, this time within a socialist system.