Vol. 24 No. 12 (December 2014) 547-548

WHAT DO LAWYERS DO? AN ETHNOGRAPHY OF A CORPORATE LAW FIRM, by John Flood. 2nd edition. New Orleans: Quid Pro Books. 2013. 195pp. Hardback $51.88. ISBN: 978-1610272100. Paper $34.99. ISBN: 978-1-610-271-615.

Reviewed by Mark C. Miller, Department of Political Science, Clark University. Email: MMiller@clarku.edu.

Socio-legal scholars remain very interested in what lawyers actually do in their daily work. Some examples include the article by Sarat and Felstiner (1986) on the work of divorce lawyers, followed by the book also on divorce lawyers by Mather, McEwen, and Maiman (2001). One of the most interesting volumes in this area is the recent book edited by Levin and Mather (2012) that explored the work of lawyers in a wide variety of practice areas. Levin and Mather argue that the work of lawyers differs greatly from practice area to practice area. As we learn more and more about the daily work of lawyers, John Flood’s latest book is a welcome addition to the literature, although Flood’s approach has been available to scholars for quite a long time. Flood’s 2013 book appears to be an updated summary of his Ph.D. dissertation from Northwestern University (1987) entitled “Anatomy of Lawyering: An Ethnology of a Corporate Law Firm.”

Flood’s latest book states that it is the second edition, but apparently the first edition is the over 900 pages of his Ph.D. dissertation. This new, second edition is a much shorter and much more concise summary of his research findings from his dissertation. In the 1980s, Flood embedded himself into a large Chicago corporate law firm to see what the lawyers actually did in their daily lives. The firm hired him as an attorney so that he could overcome any attorney\client privilege problems with his research. Thus, he was able to observe how the lawyers conducted meetings with their clients, how the lawyers interacted with other lawyers in the firm, how they interacted with paralegals other support staff, and he was able to see how the lawyers spent their time each day. This research was groundbreaking, and it is quite useful that his findings are now available in a condensed version.

Socio-legal scholars are by now quite familiar with the concept of the two hemispheres of the legal profession as described by Heinz and Laumann (1982) and updated in Heinz et al. (2005). What Flood does is explore in great detail the workings of lawyers in one hemisphere, or in other words in a large corporate firm. He finds that the work of litigators is very different from the vast majority of lawyers in these large firms because most lawyers spend their time keeping their clients out of court. The litigators are different, as implied by Pierce (1995) in her work on large corporate firms. Powell (2013) also comes to similar conclusions in her book on working in a large law firm. Thus, Flood explores the differences among different types of lawyers all employed by one of the nation’s mega law firms in the 1980s.

Flood’s book begins with a Foreword by Lynn Mather, where she argues that little is known about the actual work of business lawyers. Flood’s case studies [*547] help to fill that gap. Flood asks questions about how loyal are big firm lawyers to the needs of the clients, how they attract clients, and the path to partnership, among other important issues. In his updated and condensed restatement of his dissertation findings, Flood does a good job of presenting the more recent literature on the legal profession. Flood was not able to revisit his research subjects because the firm he studied later merged with another firm, thus making comparisons over time almost impossible for his ethnology approach. However, Flood does ponder changes in the world of large law firms all over the world as they merge and implode over time. Because Flood is English, with appointments at a variety of law and sociology programs at British universities, he also does a very good job of raising questions about how changes in the work of large law firms in Europe will affect the work of American lawyers. One thing that Flood does not do is speculate about how technological advances have affected the daily lives of attorneys in large law firms in the United States. He also spends perhaps too little time speculating about whether the changes brought to big law after the 2008 economic crisis in the U.S. are permanent or merely temporary. Nevertheless, Flood’s new book is a welcome addition to the literature in this area. It is simultaneously a classic work using a unique methodological approach and an updated examination of the work on the daily lives of corporate lawyers.


Flood, John. 1987. Anatomy of Lawyering: An Ethnology of a Corporate Law Firm. Ph.D. Dissertation, Northwestern University.

Heinz, John and Edward Laumann. 1982. CHICAGO LAWYERS: THE SOCIAL STRUCTURE OF THE BAR. New York and Chicago: Russell Sage Foundation and American Bar Foundation.

Heinz, John P., Robert L. Nelson, Rebecca L. Sandefur, and Edward O. Laumann. 2005. URBAN LAWYERS: THE NEW SOCIAL STRUCTURE OF THE BAR. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Levin, Leslie and Lynn Mather, eds. 2012. LAWYERS IN PRACTICE: ETHICAL DECISION MAKING IN CONTEXT. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mather, Lynn, Craig A. McEwen, and Richard J. Maiman. 2001. DIVORCE LAWYERS AT WORK: VARIETY OF PROFESSIONALISM IN PRATICE. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pierce, Jennifer L. 1995. GENDER TRIALS: EMOTIONAL LIVES IN CONTEMPORARY LAW FIRMS. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Sarat, Austin and William L.F. Felstiner. 1986. “Law and Strategy in the Divorce Lawyer’s Office.” Law & Society Review 20:93-134.
© Copyright 2014 by the author, Mark C. Miller.