Minorities, Merit, and Misrecognition in the Globalized Profession

By Hilary Sommerlad
April 30, 2012

The focus of this Article is the effect that globalization has had on social inequalities within large corporate professional firms, in both the United Kingdom and the United States. While globalization is an imprecise term, there is general agreement about its destructive impact on traditional society. Some see this as producing a range of negative effects (such as psycho-social fragmentation and insecure employment). Others, however, have viewed it as opening up the possibility for individuals to create their own biography. This is due in part to globalization’s “capitalization of everything” which, in the case of the legal profession, has transformed the large law firm from a relatively parochial organization, in which personal relations remained highly significant, into a multinational organization governed by Human Resource Management (HRM), commonly employing Diversity Management (DM) techniques and dominated by discourses of entrepreneurialism. These developments could be expected to have resulted in significant progress toward a more socially representative profession. Yet statistical surveys and qualitative research suggest that gender, race, and class remain strongly determinant of career progress in both the U.S. and U.K. legal professions, including in the globalized corporate sector. This Article considers some of the theoretical models which might explain the persistent salience of social categories for legal careers. It then draws on these models in a discussion of recent qualitative research conducted for the U.K. Legal Services Board (LSB).