This paper uses the case of law firms in Hong Kong to develop a theory of professional flows for the sociology of organizations and professions. Based on 9,946 law firm partner moves reported in the Hong Kong Lawyer magazine from 1994 to 2018, as well as archival data and interviews, the empirical analysis offers both a bird's-eye view of the flows of partners across law firms of different jurisdictional origins and an in-depth investigation of their impact on the most elite law firms in this market, namely the Magic Circle and Wall Street firms. Theoretically, the paper challenges the vacancy chain model of professional mobility and reconceptualizes professional service firms as organizations connected by and transform through the flows of professionals between them. The dynamics of this process of professional flows can be captured with three key concepts: Waves, circles, and turning points. In addition to its theoretical contribution, the study also has broader implications for understanding Hong Kong’s economic transformation since the 1990s.
Sida Liu is associate professor of sociology and law at the University of Toronto. He has a LL.B. degree from Peking University Law School and a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Chicago. Liu has conducted extensive empirical research on China’s legal reform and legal profession. In addition to his empirical work, he also writes on theories of law, professions, and social spaces. Liu is the author of three books in Chinese and English, most recently, “Criminal Defense in China: The Politics of Lawyers at Work” (with Terence C. Halliday, Cambridge University Press, 2016). He has also published many articles in leading law and social science journals.
Liu is a faculty fellow at the American Bar Foundation, and an affiliated scholar of the U.S.-Asia Law Institute at New York University and the Center on the Legal Profession at Harvard Law School. In 2016-2017, he was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.