Lawyers' lines of work: Specialization's role in the income determination process

Erin Leahey, Laura A. Hunte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Income inequality has been increasing in the United States, and intraoccupational processes are partly responsible (Kim and Sakamoto 2008; Mouw and Kalleberg 2010). To date, scholars have focused on suboccupational divisions, such as specialty areas, to understand why some members of an occupation earn more than others. In this article we theorize, operationalize, and assess the economic effect of another way in which members of the same profession can be distinguished: by the extent to which they specialize. Using two large secondary datasets on lawyers in the United States, we find that lawyers who specialize earn more. This effect arises partly through two mechanisms-individual productivity and firm size-and depends upon specialty area prestige: lawyers in low-prestige areas actually benefit more from specializing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbersos058
Pages (from-to)1101-1131
Number of pages31
JournalSocial Forces
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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