UCL Faculty of Laws


Matter Mills and London-Lite offices

By Professor Steven Vaughan, Professor of Law and Professional Ethics at UCL Laws and Emily Carroll, Senior Lecturer at Birmingham Law School

London Skyline featuring the Shard, Tower and Southwark Bridges

14 January 2020

Publication details

Carroll, Emily and Vaughan, Steven (2019) ‘Matter Mills and London-Lite offices: exploring forms of the onshoring of legal services in an age of globalisation’, Legal Ethics, 22:1-2, 3-27, DOI: 10.1080/1460728x.2019.1693169


This paper explores professional identity formation and the increasing differentiation and fragmentation of the corporate end of the legal profession through a consideration of onshoring, the opening (for the first time) of satellite offices in the UK (but outside of London) by elite law firms. We situate interviews with 25 lawyers, associates and partners, working in onshored UK law firm offices in work on legal services globalisation and the sociology of ‘dirty work’ (tasks and occupations likely to be perceived as disgusting or degrading). In the context of onshoring, globalisation has led to sidelining in that onshoring allows entry to elite, global firms both for those (the graduates of ‘good-enough’ law schools) perhaps unable to ‘make it’ in London and for those law firm partners and associates who have tasted City life and rejected it. That entry is, however, imperfect. It is the ‘dirty [legal] work’ that is done outside of London: seen as both lesser and also necessary to the law firm’s profitability. We see onshoring as a relatively simple organisational change to the shape of the profession, and also as part of a radical reorientation of a division of labour and what it means to be a professional.

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