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Betrayal as Market Barrier: Identity-Based Limits to Diversification among High-Status Corporate Law Firms

Damon J. Phillips, Catherine J. Turco and Ezra W. Zuckerman
American Journal of Sociology
Vol. 118, No. 4 (January 2013), pp. 1023-1054
DOI: 10.1086/668412
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/668412
Page Count: 32
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Betrayal as Market Barrier: Identity-Based Limits to Diversification among High-Status Corporate Law Firms
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Abstract

Why are some diversified market identities problematic but others are not? We examine this question in the context of high-status corporate law firms, which often diversify into one low-status area of work—family law (FL)—but face a barrier (strong disapproval from existing clients) that prevents diversification into another such area—plaintiffs’ personal injury law (PIL). Drawing on a qualitative study of the Boston legal market, we argue that this barrier reflects a situation where loyalty norms have been violated, and it surfaces because service to individual plaintiffs is tantamount to betraying the interests of corporate clients. Our analysis clarifies identity-based limits to diversification, indicating that they are rooted in concerns about the firm’s commitments as well as its capabilities, and suggests a more general refinement of theory on status and conformity.

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