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.
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Advocate (“advokat”) is a formal status that allows Russian lawyers to work on criminal cases; in European countries, they typically called criminal defense lawyers. There is no distinction between barristers and solicitors in Russia, but there is a clear difference between advocates and private lawyers (“chastnopraktikuyushchie yuristy”) - attorneys who did not pass the bar exam and are not allowed to work on criminal cases.
Obviously, the point at issue in this case is organisational and administrative influence by the elite rather than professional authority. Nevertheless, professional authority today generally coincides with the position of advocates in professional organisations.
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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).
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Kazun, A., Yakovlev, A. Legal mobilization in Russia: how organizations of lawyers can support social changes. Crime Law Soc Change 72, 303–325 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10611-019-09813-0