Legal mobilization in Russia: how organizations of lawyers can support social changes

  • Anton KazunEmail author
  • Andrei Yakovlev


To illustrate the role of organizations of lawyers in social changes we analyze the process of transforming legal and socio-political institutions in Russia over the past 30 years. We combine the theory of legal mobilization with the concept of violence and social orders proposed by North, Wallis and Weingast to describe the general logic of this process. Russian case shows that exogenous shocks stimulate collective action of criminal defence lawyers which, in turn, compel the government to respond. The state can promote the passivity of the legal community and stop legal mobilization by providing certain preferences for the profession. Even though in the 2000s, Russia took the path of destroying legal institutions, legal profession in certain circumstances could again act as an agent of social change. We conclude that the efficiency of collective action depends on the institutional capacity of legal association and on the position of the professional elite standing at its head.

JEL classification

K49 D71 L84 



The study has been funded within the framework of the Basic Research Program at the National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE) and by the Russian Academic Excellence Project ‘5-100’. We express special gratitude to Daniil Sitkevich for assistance in the selection of cases for this article. The authors are grateful for the useful comments made by Alexander Khvoshchinsky, Ekaterina Khodzhaeva, Igor Redkin, Alexander Krokhmalyuk, and participants in the XVII April International Academic Conference on Economic and Social Development (April, 2016) and Mercadus Conference “The Life & Legacy of Douglass North: Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of North’s Nobel Prize in Economics” (March, 2018).


  1. 1.
    Fukuyama, F. (1992). The end of history and the last man. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Blaydes, L., & Lo, J. (2012). One man, one vote, one time? A model of democratization in the Middle East. Journal of Theoretical Politics, 24(1), 110–146. Scholar
  3. 3.
    Postill, J. (2014). Freedom technologists and the new protest movements: A theory of protest formulas. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 20(4), 402–418.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Kiai, M., & Vize, J. (2014). Three years after Tunisia: Thoughts and perspectives on the rights to freedom of assembly and association from United Nations special rapporteur Maina Kiai. Journal of Global Ethics, 10(1), 114–121. Scholar
  5. 5.
    Smyth, R. (2018). Considering the Orange legacy: Patterns of political participation in the Euromaidan revolution. Post-Soviet Affairs, 34(5), 297–316. Scholar
  6. 6.
    Bell, D. A. (1994). Lawyers and citizens: The making of a political elite in old regime France (1st ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Gould, J. (2006). Strong bar, weak state? Lawyers, liberalism and state formation in Zambia. Development and Change, 37(4), 921–941. Scholar
  8. 8.
    Michelson, E. (2007). Lawyers, political embeddedness, and institutional continuity in China’s transition from socialism. American Journal of Sociology, 113(2), 352–414. Scholar
  9. 9.
    Gobe, E. (2010). The Tunisian Bar to the test of authoritarianism: Professional and political movements in Ben Ali’s Tunisia (1990–2007). The Journal of North African Studies, 15(3), 333–347. Scholar
  10. 10.
    Harding, A., & Whiting, A. (2012). Custodian of civil liberties and justice in Malaysia: the Malaysian bar and the moderate state. In T. Halliday, L. Karpiq, & M. Feeley (Eds.), Fates of political liberalism in the British post-colony the politics of the legal complex (pp. 247–304). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Epp, C. (2012). The legal complex in the struggle to control police brutality in India. In T. Halliday, L. Karpiq, & M. Feeley (Eds.), Fates of political liberalism in the British post-colony the politics of the legal complex (pp. 91–111). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Ghias, S. A. (2010). Miscarriage of chief justice: Judicial power and the legal complex in Pakistan under Musharraf. Law & Social Inquiry, 35(4), 985–1022.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Ahmed, Z. S., & Stephan, M. J. (2010). Fighting for the rule of law: Civil resistance and the lawyers’ movement in Pakistan. Democratization, 17(3), 492–513. Scholar
  14. 14.
    McCann, M. (2006). Law and social movements: Contemporary perspectives. Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 2(1), 17–38. Scholar
  15. 15.
    Munger, F. W., Cummings, S. L., & Trubek, L. G. (2014). Mobilizing law for justice in Asia: A comparative approach. Wisconsin International Law Journal, 31(3), 353–420.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Halliday, T. C., Karpik, L., & Feeley, M. M. (Eds.). (2007). Fighting for political freedom: Comparative studies of the legal complex and political liberalism. Oxford; Portland: Hart Publishing.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Karpik, L., & Halliday, T. C. (2011). The legal complex. Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 7, 217–236. Scholar
  18. 18.
    North, D. C., Wallis, J. J., & Weingast, B. R. (2009). Violence and social orders: A conceptual framework for interpreting recorded human history. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    North, D. C., Wallis, J. J., Webb, S. B., & Weingast, B. R. (2013). In the shadow of violence: Politics, economics, and the problems of development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Hendley, K., Murrell, P., & Ryterman, R. (2000). Law, relationships and private enforcement: Transactional strategies of Russian enterprises. Europe-Asia Studies, 52(4), 627–656. Scholar
  21. 21.
    Frye, T. (2004). Credible commitment and property rights: Evidence from Russia. American Political Science Review, 98(3), 453–466.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Firestone, T. (2008). Criminal corporate raiding in Russia. The International Lawyer, 42(4), 1207–1229.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Gans-Morse, J. (2015). Violence, law, and property rights: institutional demand in post-soviet Russia. Retrieved from Accessed 24 Jan 2019.
  24. 24.
    Shleifer, A., & Treisman, D. (2014). Normal countries: The east 25 years after communism. Foreign Affairs, 1–18.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Hendley, K. (2009). “Telephone law” and the “rule of law”: The Russian case. Hague Journal on the Rule of Law, 1(02), 241–262. Scholar
  26. 26.
    Gustafsson, P. (2013). The emergence of the rule of law in Russia. Global Crime, 14(1), 82–109. Scholar
  27. 27.
    Hendley, K., & Murrell, P. (2015). Revisiting the emergence of the rule of law in Russia. Global Crime, 16(1), 19–33. Scholar
  28. 28.
    Kazun, A., & Yakovlev, A. (2017). Who demands collective action in an imperfect institutional environment? A case study of the profession of advocates in Russia. Journal of Eurasian Studies, 8(1), 60–71. Scholar
  29. 29.
    Zemans, F. K. (1983). Legal mobilization: The neglected role of the law in the political system. American Political Science Review, 77(3), 690–703.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Silbey, S. S. (2005). After legal consciousness. Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 1, 323–368. Scholar
  31. 31.
    Marshall, J. (2006). Are small-town lawyers positivist about the law? In M. Freeman (Ed.), Law and sociology (pp. 279–302). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Boukalas, C. (2013). Politics as legal action/lawyers as political actors towards a reconceptualisation of cause lawyering. Social & Legal Studies, 22(3), 395–420. Scholar
  33. 33.
    Halliday, T. C. (1982). The idiom of legalism in bar politics: Lawyers, McCarthyism, and the civil rights era. American Bar Foundation Research Journal, 7(4), 911–988.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Halliday, T. C. (1987). Beyond monopoly: Lawyers, state crises, and professional empowerment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Ledford, K. F. (2006). From general estate to special interest: German lawyers 1878–1933. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Rajah, J. (2012). Authoritarian rule of law: Legislation, discourse and legitimacy in. Singapore: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Brinks, D. M. (2007). The judicial response to police killings in Latin America: Inequality and the rule of law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Kawar, L. (2011). Legal mobilization on the terrain of the state: Creating a field of immigrant rights lawyering in France and the United States. Law & Social Inquiry, 36(2), 354–387. Scholar
  39. 39.
    Barclay, S., & Chomsky, D. (2014). How do cause lawyers decide when and where to litigate on behalf of their cause? Law & Society Review, 48(3), 595–620. Scholar
  40. 40.
    Arrington, C. L. (2014). Leprosy, legal mobilization, and the public sphere in Japan and South Korea. Law & Society Review, 48(3), 563–593. Scholar
  41. 41.
    Prabhat, D. (2011). After 9/11: Guantánamo and the mobilization of lawyers. In Special Issue Social Movements/Legal Possibilities (Vols. 1–0, Vol. 54, pp. 213–259). Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Retrieved from Accessed 24 Jan 2019.
  42. 42.
    van der Vet, F.(2018). “When they come for you”: Legal mobilization in new authoritarian Russia. Law & Society Review, 52(2), 301–336.
  43. 43.
    Faqir, K., Islam, F., & Rizvi, S. H. (2013). The lawyers movement for judicial Independence in Pakistan: A study of Musharraf regime. Asian Journal of Social Sciences & Humanities, 2(2), 345–357.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    McEvoy, K., & Rebouche, R. (2007). Mobilizing the professions: Lawyers, politics, and the collective legal conscience. In J. Morison, K. McEvoy, & G. Anthony (Eds.), Judges, transition, and human rights (pp. 275–314). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from Accessed 24 Jan 2019.
  45. 45.
    Liu, S. (2011). Lawyers, state officials and significant others: Symbiotic exchange in the Chinese legal services market. The China Quarterly; Cambridge, 206, 276–293. Scholar
  46. 46.
    Liang, B., He, N. P., & Lu, H. (2014). The deep divide in China’s criminal justice system: Contrasting perceptions of lawyers and the iron triangle. Crime, Law and Social Change, 62(5), 585–601. Scholar
  47. 47.
    Carugati, F., Ober, J., & Weingast, B. R. (2015). Is development uniquely modern? Athens on the doorstep (SSRN Scholarly Paper No. ID 2370579). Rochester: Social Science Research Network. Retrieved from Accessed 24 Jan 2019.
  48. 48.
    Reckendrees, A. (2015). Weimar Germany: The first open access order that failed? Constitutional Political Economy, 26(1), 38–60. Scholar
  49. 49.
    Webb, S. B. (2015). Becoming an open democratic capitalist society: A two-century historical perspective on Germany’s evolving political economy. Constitutional Political Economy, 26(1), 19–37. Scholar
  50. 50.
    Kelly, J. E. (1998). Rethinking industrial relations: Mobilization, collectivism, and long waves. London: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Olson, M. (1971). The logic of collective action: Public goods and the theory of groups, second printing with new preface and appendix (revised edition.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Solomon, P. (2005). Threats of judicial Counterreform in Putin’s Russia. Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization, 13(3), 325–346. Scholar
  53. 53.
    Solomon, P. (2008). Assessing the courts in Russia: Parameters of Progress under Putin. Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization, 16(1), 63–73. Scholar
  54. 54.
    Solomon, P. H. (2015). Post-soviet criminal justice: The persistence of distorted neo-inquisitorialism. Theoretical Criminology, 19(2), 159–178. Scholar
  55. 55.
    Hendley, K. (2015). Justice in Moscow? Post-Soviet Affairs, 32, 1–21. Scholar
  56. 56.
    Volkov, V. (2016). Legal and extralegal origins of sentencing disparities: Evidence from Russia’s criminal courts. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 13(4), 637–665. Scholar
  57. 57.
    Mrowczynski, R. (2016). Institutional professionalization of lawyers in state-socialism and post-socialism: Poland and Russia compared. International Journal of the Legal Profession, 23(2), 157–184. Scholar
  58. 58.
    Volkov, V. (2012). How judges pass decisions: Empirical law studies. Moscow: Statut.Google Scholar
  59. 59.
    Paneyakh, E. (2014). Faking performance together: Systems of performance evaluation in Russian enforcement agencies and production of bias and privilege. Post-Soviet Affairs, 30(2–3), 115–136. Scholar
  60. 60.
    Halliday, T., Powell, M. J., & Granfors, M. W. (1993). After minimalism: Transformations of state bar associations from market dependence to state reliance, 1918 to 1950. American Sociological Review, 58(4), 515–535.Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    Taylor, B. D. (2014). Police reform in Russia: The policy process in a hybrid regime. Post-Soviet Affairs, 30(2–3), 226–255. Scholar
  62. 62.
    Parker, C., & Evans, A. (2007). Inside lawyers’ ethics (1st ed.). Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  63. 63.
    Rochlitz, M. (2014). Corporate raiding and the role of the state in Russia. Post-Soviet Affairs, 30(2–3), 89–114. Scholar
  64. 64.
    Kazun, A. (2015). Violent corporate raiding in Russia: Preconditions and protective factors. Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization, 23(4), 459–484.Google Scholar
  65. 65.
    Yakovlev, A., Sobolev, A., & Kazun, A. (2014). Means of production versus means of coercion: Can Russian business limit the violence of a predatory state? Post-Soviet Affairs, 30(2–3), 171–194. Scholar
  66. 66.
    Doner, R., & Schneider, B. R. (2000). Business associations and economic development: Why some associations contribute more than others. Business and Politics, 2(3), 261–288.Google Scholar
  67. 67.
    Gobe, E. (2013). Of lawyers and Samsars: The legal services market and the authoritarian state in Ben “Ali”s Tunisia (1987—2011). Middle East Journal, 67(1), 45–63.Google Scholar
  68. 68.
    Winn, J. K., & Yeh, T. (1995). Advocating democracy: The role of lawyers in Taiwan’s political transformation. Law & Social Inquiry, 20(2), 561–599.Google Scholar
  69. 69.
    Woodruff, D. M. (2004). Property rights in context: Privatization’s legacy for corporate legality in Poland and Russia. Studies in Comparative International Development, 38(4), 82–108. Scholar
  70. 70.
    Gerber, T. P., & Mendelson, S. E. (2008). Public experiences of police violence and corruption in contemporary Russia: A case of predatory policing? Law & Society Review, 42(1), 1–44. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.International Center for the Study of Institutions and DevelopmentNational Research University Higher School of EconomicsMoscowRussian Federation
  2. 2.Institute of Industrial and Market StudiesNational Research University Higher School of EconomicsMoscowRussian Federation

Personalised recommendations