An award-winning paper by CIRHR PhD student Yao Yao has been published in the British Journal of Industrial Relations. "Uberizing the Legal Profession? Lawyer Autonomy and Status in the Digital Legal Market" was awarded the 2019 Allen Ponak Award for Best Student Paper, presented at the CIRA Banquet on June 6 in Vancouver.
Yao described the origins of the research published in the article, which is part of her thesis, following the announcement of the Ponak Award: “This line of research was inspired by the lack of attention to high-skilled workers in the online gig economy. Most published empirical research to date examines either low-skilled occupations, such as ride-sharing drivers, or a mixture of high-skilled workers without a focus on specific occupations.
“Unlike most Uber and Lyft drivers, licensed professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, can usually expect reputable employment. It is therefore puzzling why, given the worsening working conditions of online gig work, professionals would join online labour platforms and risk precarity. It is also intriguing what the consequences of this risk leads these professionals to. The paper was guided by this curiosity and takes an initial step toward understanding the legal profession in the online gig economy.”
The online gig economy disrupted many occupations in the past decade, but only more recently has it shown impact in professional fields. The recency of this trend indicates a need for understanding the impact of the online gig economy on professional workers. Using interview data from lawyers who work on one of China’s most successful online legal service platforms, this study finds that supplementary income and flexibility are the two major motives for lawyers to work online. Nevertheless, when working online, lawyers face lower intra-professional status and lower autonomy as to how to approach their work. Despite its growth, the digital legal market is imposing minimal threat on the traditional legal market due to the lack of interference of the labour supply and demand in these two markets.