Work and honor in the law: Prestige and the division of lawyers' labor

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Two theories compete to explain the distribution of professional prestige among lawyers. Each theory arises out of a general theory of the social organization of the legal profession. Their disagreement centers on the source of the values that underlie lawyers' prestige order and on the aspects of the division of labor that are consequently salient in determining prestige. The client-type thesis holds that the profession is organized largely by its relationships with its clients, and so lawyers esteem service to socially powerful clients. The professional purity thesis holds that the profession is organized around a core of abstract knowledge, and so lawyers esteem work that is "professionally pure," in the sense of being free of non-legal considerations. Analyses of prestige judgments from a contemporary sample of lawyers in the city of Chicago reveal that some of lawyers' professional values are intrinsic to the profession, as predicted by the professional purity thesis. Lawyers' esteem for professionally pure work complements their tendency to derogate service to people especially those with little wealth or power-and to esteem service to large, powerful, and wealthy organizations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)382-403
Number of pages22
JournalAmerican Sociological Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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