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Private Law Firms in the Public Interest: The Organizational and Institutional Determinants of Pro Bono Participation, 1994–2005

  • Steven A. Boutcher

Abstract

Despite longstanding concern that the commercialization of legal practice is antithetical to professionalism, corporate law firms have dramatically increased their pro bono participation over the past few decades. What explains this paradox? This article examines the organizational and institutional determinants of pro bono participation across an elite field of large law firms. I find that pro bono work is only partly rooted in internal organizational dynamics and that the institutional environment appears more important for explaining variation in pro bono participation. These findings indicate that large firms may be more drawn to pro bono work as a social process tied to professional status and legitimacy than to concrete, rational organizational goals. Moreover, these findings point to the importance of the interstitial space that these firms inhabit between the legal profession and corporate market as an especially important factor in facilitating, rather than dampening, pro bono participation.

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Law & Social Inquiry
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