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Migration Patterns of Chinese Lawyers

Time:2014-03-13 Hit:1090


Migration Patterns of Chinese Lawyers
Chinese lawyers work in a highly fragmented market for legal services, with huge inequalities between the east coast and the rest of the country, as well as between the corporate sector and the rest of the profession. While elite corporate lawyers in Beijing and Shanghai work in dazzling office buildings and enjoy high income and prestige in a rapidly globalizing market,many lawyers practicing in smaller cities and rural counties still have difficulties making ends meet, and some risk personal safety when defending clients in criminal cases (Liu 2011b; Liu and Halliday 2011;
Michelson 2007a). This extremely diverse and stratified social structure of the Chinese legal profession is our starting point for understanding the movement of lawyers across the country.
To some extent, Chinese migrant lawyers resemble rural migrant workers in their general migration patterns. Research on Chinese migrant workers has shown that migrants do not move randomly and haphazardly to the urban areas, but gravitate toward very specific places in the east coast and form urban villages based on native-place ties (Fan 2008; Zhang 2001; Davin 1999; Ma and Xiang 1998). Meanwhile, China maintains a hukou or household registration system that makes an institutional distinction between urban and rural residents and between residents of different geographical areas (Chan and Zhang 1999; Cheng and Seldon 1994). The system creates a spatial hierarchy that privileges city over country in the allocation of state resources. It also structurally sorts workers based on their hukou status into the elites, the natives, and the outsiders (Fan 2002). Migrant lawyers in China are also subject to the hukou system. Most of them could not obtain local hukou in the receiving cities and thus belong to the “floating population” (liudong renkou) in urban China (Zhang 2001).
Still, the migration of Chinese lawyers displays some distinct patterns from that of the general population. Figure 1 shows the Gini coefficients for the distributions of provincial populations and lawyers in China in 2000–2007.
While the distribution of China’s general population (both registered and permanent) remained stable throughout this period, the inequality in the distribution of full-time lawyers rose significantly. This suggests a sharp imbalance in the growth of lawyers across provinces. As reported in the Appendix, the average annual growth rates of lawyers across provinces in 2000–2007 vary from 24.35 percent in Beijing to 1.48 percent in Jilin Province, with Beijing, Guangdong (13.66 percent), and Shanghai (12.59 percent) leading in lawyer growth.
 In 2000 Beijing was not even in the top five but, in the following year, it jumped to third place and, in 2007, the city had the largest share of full-time lawyers in the country. Shanghai’s ascent is more recent still.
In 2004 the city made it into fifth place where it remained until 2006 and then it rose to fourth place the following year. Guangdong Province was consistently the province with the largest share of full-time lawyers throughout the early 2000s. However, its status as such is less remarkable compared to Beijing and Shanghai: the two major cities outpaced whole provinces in their growths of full-time lawyers. Whereas the top five provinces accounted for 33 percent of all full-time lawyers in China in 2000, three of them plus Beijing and Shanghai accounted for 41 percent of the full-time lawyers in 2007. Consistent with Figure 1, Table 1 also suggests that the distribution of lawyers across China became notably more concentrated over this short period. Yet, no such change occurred in China’s general population.
Arguably, the sharp geographical difference in lawyer growth may reflect the uneven levels of economic development and legal consciousness in China.
However, we find that lawyer migration is an underlying cause for the variations in lawyer growth in different provinces. That is, certain provinces have higher lawyer growth rates than others not solely because they have more new local lawyers entering the legal profession but also because they have received more migrant lawyers from those provinces with lower lawyer growth rates. In our 2009 CLE Survey, approximately one-third of the 1,019 lawyer respondents indicated that they used to practice law in another city.
Of the lawyer respondents who practiced in Shanghai, 47.5 percent of them reported that they had previously worked in another city; in Beijing, 44.3 percent; and in Guangdong Province, 43.2 percent. These three locations are also the most popular destinations among the lawyer respondents who reported that they planned to practice in another city in the next five years. The notable increase in the number of migrant lawyers in China in the past decade requires a careful explanation. One reasonable hypothesis is that the patterns of lawyer migration follow the general movement patterns of Chinese migrant workers. However, our analysis of the yearbook data suggests that this is not the case. While Guangdong and Zhejiang are the largest receiving provinces of migrant workers in China (Fan 2008; Davin 1999),
Beijing and Shanghai are the primary destinations of migrant lawyers. Unlike workers in manufacturing or construction industries who often form large migrant communities based on their regional ties (Zhang 2001), migrant lawyers rarely cluster by their geographical origins or exclusively serve migrant workers, the majority of whom cannot afford legal services。 Instead, the main reasons for the spatial mobility of Chinese lawyers are income differentials and regulatory opportunities. The former is the primary driving force of lawyer migration, while the latter is responsible for its dramatic increase in the mid-2000s.
The disparity in income and work opportunities is the fundamental reason for Chinese lawyers’ internal migration. The income gap between lawyers in rustbelt regions and those in Beijing and Shanghai is astoundingly large.
  While income differentials have always existed in the Chinese bar, the relaxation of administrative regulation on lawyers’ interprovincial mobility has directly and dramatically increased lawyer migration since the mid-2000s.
The turning point was the promulgation of the Administrative License Law in August 2003, which states that professional licensing shall only be established by law or administrative regulation (arts. 12 and 14). Prior to this law, to be a licensed Chinese lawyer required not only passing the state judicial exam, but also an annual registration process controlled by the provincial justice bureaus, with various local restrictions constraining lawyers’ interprovincial mobility. In contrast, the Administrative License Law limits the authority of granting professional licenses to the National People’s Congress and the State Council. Provincial justice bureaus no longer have the regulatory authority to set formal restrictions on bar registration. Since the Administrative
License Law became effective on July 1, 2004, Chinese lawyers could move relatively freely from one province to another without changing their hukou or other personnel status, provided that they could find a law firm in the receiving city or province to complete the necessary registration paperwork with the justice bureaus (IN06513).7 However, it remains rare that the receiving law firm would provide the migrant lawyer with a local hukou.
The lack of residential status did not restrain migrant lawyers from flooding into major cities in the east coast. As the largest receiving city, Beijing initially welcomed migrant lawyers from all over the country.
SIDA LIU, LILY LIANG, and ETHAN MICHELSON



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