By Arjun Subrahmanyan
As in other professions, the role of lawyers (and attitudes about the role of law) in a fast-changing China are in flux. At the beginning of the reform period in 1979, it is estimated there were about 200 lawyers in all of China; by 1987 there were an estimated 450. Until 1989, all Chinese law firms were state-owned. Today, by most estimates there are at least 10,000 domestic law firms and 110,000 lawyers registered in the PRC. Also, today almost all commercially significant Chinese law firms in the fast-growing coastal cities are privately owned and managed. Detailed contracts and sophisticated legal opinions are staples of private party transactions.
Looking at the Elites
The numbers of law firms and lawyers are impressive and misleading at the same time. Given the fact that lawyers were once classed among the worst type of "stinking intellectuals" in China, enormous...