Lawyer Discipline in an Authoritarian Regime: Empirical Insights from Zhejiang Province, China

35 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2017 Last revised: 3 Aug 2017

See all articles by Judith A. McMorrow

Judith A. McMorrow

Boston College - Law School

Sida Liu

University of Toronto; American Bar Foundation

Benjamin van Rooij

University of California, Irvine School of Law

Date Written: June 22, 2017


On paper, the state-run lawyer disciplinary system in China serves multiple interests: client protection, maintaining the reputation of the legal profession, upholding the rule of law, and safeguarding the party-state authority. This Article assesses which of these interests dominates in the lawyer disciplinary process by analyzing 122 published lawyer discipline cases from Zhejiang Province from 2007–2015. These records of lawyer discipline evidence an authoritarian political logic of attorney discipline, with punishment most clearly serving to safeguard the Communist Party’s rule by keeping lawyers in bounds and tightly tied to their law firms. Subordinate to this are other state interests such as upholding the legal system and rule of law, as well as private interests of protecting firm income. Client protection is a secondary interest at best, with only a handful of cases having clear client-protection goals. The dominance of party-state interests reflects not only the socialist legacy, but also the persistence of an authoritarian legality in contemporary China.

Suggested Citation

McMorrow, Judith A. and Liu, Sida and van Rooij, Benjamin, Lawyer Discipline in an Authoritarian Regime: Empirical Insights from Zhejiang Province, China (June 22, 2017). Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, Vol. 30, No. 2, 2017; Boston College Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 458; UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2017-35. Available at SSRN:

Judith A. McMorrow (Contact Author)

Boston College - Law School ( email )

885 Centre Street
Newton, MA 02459-1163
United States

Sida Liu

University of Toronto ( email )

725 Spadina Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2J4


American Bar Foundation ( email )

750 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611
United States


Benjamin Van Rooij

University of California, Irvine School of Law ( email )

401 E. Peltason Dr.
Ste. 1000
Irvine, CA 92697-1000
United States

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