Legal Professions

Legal Professions

A main strain of my research involves using the changing demographics within the legal profession to think about inequality and hierarchy reproduction more critically. In the past, I have worked on the globalization of legal education, gendered academic careers, and the structural impossibility of sustainable diversity in U.S. law firms. I’m currently working on two main projects on the legal profession: the first is a book project tentatively titled Accidental Feminism (under contract with Princeton University Press) on gender and the legal profession in India. The second is a set of projects on diversity within U.S. legal education. A third forthcoming project interrogates the legal profession in the Middle East with a focus on lawyers and legal institutions in the GCC.

In addition to research and teaching in this area, I am co-founder of the Law and Society Association Legal Education CRN (19) along with John Bliss and David Sandomierski. I was the Access Lex Visiting Scholar on Legal Education at the American Bar Foundation (2017-18) and have been an Affiliated Fellow of the Harvard Law School Center on the Legal Profession since 2009.

My current book project Accidental Feminism (building on my NSF-funded dissertation) makes an intervention to the scholarship on gender and the legal profession by looking at new global sites to reveal new ways in which gender gets “done”. Gender inequality and diversity has been an important part of research on the legal profession. Extending this rich body of work to a comparative context, my main project examines the professional landscape in India and shows that feminization happens in a unique way. Recent comparative demographic research on the legal profession reveals that while most countries have followed a trend of increasing feminization over the last half a century, two – India and China – still offer strong resistance to this norm. Of these, India, despite having one the world’s largest legal professions with over a million lawyers, still remains the least feminized with women comprising less than 10% of the profession. Not surprisingly, women’s underrepresentation becomes even starker at senior positions. And not unlike other global historical accounts, many successful professional women continue to face inhospitable work environments. In sharp contrast to these patterns, women attorneys in India’s new corporate law firms experience a vastly more encouraging professional environment. Among these new and prestigious firms, women constitute slightly more than half of the entering cohorts and represent close to half the partnership. This kind of gender parity is unlikely for prestigious legal practice in general but especially stark given the broader context of gender and formal work in India. This contrast is the empirical point of departure that motivates much of this comparative research.

The second line of inquiry concentrates on emerging trends in U.S. legal education and organizational diversity. Across a set of projects, colleagues and I build on earlier research to reveal the ways in which new kinds of diversity are demanding a rethinking of current legal institutions. The main site for this research has been an inquiry into the rising number of international students in U.S. mainstream (i.e. J.D.) programs and the implications this has had for both law schools and individual students alike. This research (along with Carole Silver) uses legal education as one more landscape to theorize about the concepts of institutional inequality in an increasingly globalizing profession. The motivation for this body of work lies directly in the implications of its underlying empirics. International students have, especially in the last few decades, earned their place as serious actors in any conversation about the globalization of law. They are currently over 3% of the JD population across all ABA approved law schools (and 6% of the population in the top-20 law schools), with an increasing number of law schools with more international students than other kinds of minority students. Yet, even as these numbers continue to grow, we know little about this population and their experience. Our research begins to fill this gap. In another forthcoming project (with Anthony Paik, Steven Boutcher, Carole Silver, Ken Sanchagrin, and Katie Young), we use these findings from earlier research to inform a multi-method empirical investigation into the kinds of networks that enable law student entry, experience, and success.



Ballakrishnen, Swethaa and Carole Silver. 2018. “A New Minority?: International J.D. Students in U.S. Law Schools.” | Forthcoming at Law and Social Inquiry

Ballakrishnen, Swethaa. 2018. “Present and Future: A Revised Sociological Portrait of the Indian Legal Profession.” | Lawyers in 21st Century Society, Eds. Hilary Sommerlad, Ole Hammerslev, Rick Abel, and Ulrike Schultz. Hart Publishing. In Press

Ballakrishnen, Swethaa. 2017. “She Gets The Job Done’: Entrenched Gender Meanings and New Returns to Essentialism in India’s Elite Law Firms.” | Journal of Professions and Organization 4(3): 324-42 | 2017/18 JPO Best Paper Award

Ballakrishnen, Swethaa. 2017. “Women in India’s "Global" Law Firms: Comparative Gender Frames and the Advantage of New Organizations.” | The Indian Legal Profession in the Age of Globalization. Eds. David B. Wilkins, Vikramaditya S. Khanna and David Trubek. Cambridge University Press, pp. 240-63

Pearce, Russell, Eli Wald, and Swethaa Ballakrishnen. 2015. “Difference Blindness v. Bias Awareness: Why Law Firms with the Best of Intentions Have Failed to Create Diverse Partnerships.” | 83 Fordham Law Review 2407-55

Ballakrishnen, Swethaa. 2012. “Homeward Bound: What Does a Global Legal Education Offer the Indian Returnees?” | 80 Fordham Law Review 2441-80

Journal of Professions and Organization. 2018. 2017/18 Best Paper Award ($1000)

The Clayman Institute for Gender Research. 2015. Marjorie Lozoff Graduate Prize for Research on Women and Gender

Stanford University Department of Sociology. 2015. Barbara and Sandy Dorbusch Award for a Contribution to the Understanding or Solution of a Social Problem

National Science Foundation. 2014. Same Same But Different: Women in India’s Elite Professional Service Firms. Law and Social Sciences (LSS) Dissertation Improvement Grant. ($19,999)

Institute of Global Law and Policy at Harvard. 2014. The Feminization of the Global Legal Profession in India. Santander & IGLP Doha Research Grant ($2000)

Law and Society Association. 2012. Women in Global Legal Practice. Travel Grant ($1800)