Global Law Firms in Real-World Contexts: Practical Limitations and Ethical Implications


This article argues that despite the rise in the numbers of global law firms in recent years, the future of these firms should not be assumed given escalating levels of economic (and legal) uncertainty. These uncertainties are the result, in part, of growing global and regional conflicts, terrorism, environmental degradation, pandemics, forced migrations, trade embargoes and so on which are in turn linked to global inequalities and disparities of wealth between and within the global south and global north. It is argued that global law firms, as the “lubricators of global capitalism”, should pay attention to the localized real-world impacts of finance, development and trade that their legal work enables. This is important not only to ensure the future security and revenues of global law firms, but more importantly to ensure democratic aspirations and the stability of democratic institutions around the world.

Share and Cite:

Darian-Smith, E. (2015) Global Law Firms in Real-World Contexts: Practical Limitations and Ethical Implications. Beijing Law Review, 6, 92-101. doi: 10.4236/blr.2015.61010.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Amazon Watch (2014).
[2] Angel, T. (2007). Your Challenge: Sustaining Partnership in the 21st Century: The Global Law Firm Experience. In L. Empson (Ed.), Managing the Modern Law Firm (pp. 196-217). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[3] Arthurs, H. (2009). Law and Learning in an Era of Globalization. CLPE Research Paper No. 22/09.
[4] Arthurs, H. (2013). The Future of Legal Education: Three Visions and a Prediction. Osgoode Hall Law School Research Paper Series No. 49/2013.
[5] Berman, P. S. (2012). Global Legal Pluralism: A Jurisprudence of Law beyond Borders. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[6] Birdsall, N. (2010). The (Indispensable) Middle Class in Developing Countries; or, the Rich and the Rest, Not the Poor and the Rest. CGD Working Paper 207. Washington DC: Center for Global Development.
[7] Boghosian, H. (2013). Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power and Public Resistance. San Francisco: City Lights Publishers.
[8] Butler, J. (2011). Fiscal Crisis, or the Neo-Liberal Assault on Democracy? Greek Left Review.
[9] Castells, M. (2012). Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age. New York: Polity.
[10] Darian-Smith, E. (2013). Laws and Societies in Global Contexts: Contemporary Approaches. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[11] Darian-Smith, E. (2014). “Locating a Global Perspective”. Symposium: Legal Scholarship and Globalization: Engagements with William Twining. Transnational Legal Theory, 4, 524-526.
[12] Darrow, M. (2006). Between Light and Shadow: The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and International Human Rights Law. Oxford: Hart.
[13] Empson, L. (Ed.) (2007). Managing the Modern Law Firm. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[14] Engel, D. M., & Engel, J. S. (2010). Tort, Custom, and Karma: Globalization and Legal Consciousness in Thailand. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.
[15] Etherington, L., & Lee, R. G. (2007). Ethical Codes and Cultural Context: Ensuring Legal Ethics in the Global Law Form. Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, 14, 95-118.
[16] Falk, R., Juergensmeyer, M., & Popovski, V. (Eds.) (2012). Legality and Legitimacy in Global Affairs. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[17] Faulconbridge, J. R., Beaverstock, J. V., Muzio, D., & Taymor, P. J. (2008). Global Law Firms: Globalization and Organizational Spaces of Cross-Border Legal Work. Northwestern Journal of International Law & Business, 28, 455-488.
[18] Ferguson, J. (2006). Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
[19] Flood, J. (2007). Lawyers as Sanctifiers: The Role of Elite Law Firms in International Business Transactions. Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, 14, 35-66.
[20] Garcia, F. J. (2013). Global Justice and International Economic Law: Three Takes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[21] Gelder, S. V. (Ed.) (2011). This Changes Everything: Occupy Wall Street and the 99% Movement. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
[22] Ghazi, B. (2005). The IMF, the World Bank Group and the Question of Human Rights. Ardsley, NY: Transnational Publishers.
[23] Griffiths, A. (2013). Reviewing Legal Pluralism. In R. Banakar, & M. Travers (Eds.), An Introduction to Law and Social Theory (2nd ed., pp. 269-286). Oxford: Hart.
[24] Hanauer, N. (2014). The Pitchforks Are Coming…For Us Plutocrats. Politico Magazine.
[25] Harris, M. (2013). Law Firms and Overcharging: The System Itself Is Rotten.
[26] Held, D. (2002). Culture and Political Community: National, Global, and Cosmopolitan. In S. Vertovec, & R. Cohen (Eds.), Conceiving Cosmopolitanism: Theory, Context, Practice (pp. 48-58). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[27] Howson, N. C. (2009). When “Good” Corporate Governance Makes “Bad” (Financial) Firms: The Global Crisis and the Limits of Private Law. Michigan Law Review, First Impressions, 108, 44.
[28] Klein, N. (2008). Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. New York: Picador.
[29] Klein, N. (2014). This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. New York: Simon & Schuster.
[30] Knight, D. M. (2013). The Desire to Blame Greece for the Eurocrisis Ensures That the Greek People Pay the Price, While the Elites Responsible Get Away Free. European Politics and Policy at LSE (9 January 2013) Blog Entry.
[31] Le Goff, P. (2007). Global Law: A Legal Phenomenon Emerging from the Process of Globalization. Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, 14, 119-145.
[32] Lothian, T. (2014). Democracy, Law and Global Finance: An Example of Research Agenda for a New Practice of Law and Economics. The Center for Law and Economic Studies, Columbia University School of Law Working Paper Series.
[33] Merry, S. E. (2008). International Law and Sociolegal Scholarship: Toward a Spatial Global Legal Pluralism. Special Issue: Law and Society Reconsidered. Studies in Law, Politics and Society, 41, 149-168.
[34] Michaels, R. (2009). Global Legal Pluralism. Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 5, 243-262.
[35] Nixon, R. (2011). Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
[36] Pew Survey (2013). Public Esteem for Military Still High.
[37] Piketty, T. (2014). Capital in the Twenty-First Century. New York: Belknap Press.
[38] Piketty, T. and Zucman, G. (2013). Capital Is Back: Wealth-Income Ratios in Rich Countries 1700-2010.
[39] Porter, T. (2001). The Democratic Deficit in the Institutional Arrangements for Regulating Global Finance. Global Governance, 7, 427-439.
[40] Reese, F. (2013). Americans Are Distrustful of “Big Business”: Is Change in the Air?
[41] Greenwood, R. (2007). Your Ethics: Redefining Professionalism? The Impact of Management. In L. Empson (Ed.), Managing the Modern Law Firm (pp. 186-195). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[42] Sassen, S. (2008). Neither Global Nor National: Novel Assemblages of Territory, Authority and Rights. Ethics & Global Politics, 1, 61-79.
[43] Silver, C. (2007). Local Matters: Internationalizing Strategies for US Law Firms. Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, 14, 67-93.
[44] Sokol, D. D. (2007). Globalization of Law Firms: A Survey of the Literature and a Research Agenda for Further Study. Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, 14, 5-28.
[45] Standing, G. (2011). The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
[46] Stiglitz, J. (2012). The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
[47] Sturm, S. (2013). Law Schools, Leadership, and Change. Harvard Law Review, 127.
[48] Tamanaha, B. Z. (2012). Failing Law Schools (Chicago Series in Law and Society). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
[49] Tamanaha, B. Z. (2006). Law as a Means to an Ends: Threat to the Rule of Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[50] Tamanaha, B. Z., Sage, C., & Woolcock, M. (Eds.) (2012). Legal Pluralism and Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[51] Terry, L. S. (2008). The Legal World Is Flat: Globalization and Its Effect on Lawyers Practicing in Non-Global Law Firms. Northwestern Journal of International Law & Business, 28, 527-559.
[52] Twining, W. (2009). Globalization and Legal Scholarship (Vol. 4). Tilburg Law Lecture Series, Montesquieu Seminars.
[53] Zaretsky, S. (2013). Bow before the Global 100, the Top-Grossing Law Firms on the Planet. BigLaw.
[54] Zumbansen, P. (2012). Defining the Space of Transnational Law: Legal Theory, Global Governance and Legal Pluralism. In G. Handl, J. Zekoll, & P. Zumbansen (Eds.), Beyond Territoriality: Transnational Legal Authority in an Age of Globalization (pp. 53-87). Leiden and Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.
[55] Zumbansen, P. (2013). Law and Legal Pluralism: Hybridity in Transnational Governance. In P. Jurcys, P. F. Kjaer, & R. Yatsunami (Eds.), Regulatory Hybridization in the Transnational Sphere (pp. 49-70). Leiden and Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.

Copyright © 2023 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.