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Investigating the Professional Identity of Hong Kong Solicitors: A qualitative perspective

Project Scheme:
General Research Fund
Project Year:
2018/2019
Project Leader:
Dr LEE, Man Yee Karen
(Department of Social Sciences)
Investigating the Professional Identity of Hong Kong Solicitors: A qualitative perspective

This project seeks to shed some light on the debate by investigating the professional identity of Hong Kong solicitors through event analysis and in-depth interviews. By exploring the lived experiences of a cross-section of solicitors who practice law in a variety of settings, this project will create new knowledge in two ways.

Whether law is a profession for public service or a self-serving monopoly has been the subject of perennial academic contestations. This project seeks to shed some light on the debate by investigating the professional identity of Hong Kong solicitors through event analysis and in-depth interviews. By exploring the lived experiences of a cross-section of solicitors who practice law in a variety of settings, this project will create new knowledge in two ways. First, it transcends a dominant research paradigm that focuses on prominent members of the profession or elite lawyers in international law firms by shifting focus to ordinary legal practitioners. Second, it goes beyond a widely held assumption that Hong Kong solicitors are profit-driven and inward-looking through an investigation of their professional identity and its relationships with the process of professional socialization. In doing so, this project will help highlight the diversities and complexities within the legal profession and enrich the international literature on lawyers and professionalism with a case study from Hong Kong. This project is set against the backdrop of Hong Kong’s transformation from a British colony to China’s Special Administrative Region, and hence uses the year of 1997 as a watershed. Sovereignty change in 1997 ushered in a new political era including the merger of two different legal systems, common law and socialist law, which subtly (yet fundamentally) changed the legal framework within which Hong Kong lawyers practice – most of them solicitors. To investigate whether and how solicitors’ professional identity and their perceptions to the profession and society have changed along Hong Kong’s trajectory, this project will employ the methods of event analysis and in-depth interviews. A critical analysis of major legal and political milestones since 1997 sets the context for the semi-structured interviews with a cross-section of solicitors. A sample of at least 60 solicitors will be drawn equally from those who entered the profession before and after 1997, which will cover solicitors who belong to different levels of seniority, social and education backgrounds, areas of expertise, and practice settings. This in-depth study of a cross-section of solicitors will produce valuable insights about how they perceive the current state of the legal profession, the public roles of lawyers, their views about Hong Kong’s future, as well as how their views might have changed through time, experience, and socio-political changes.