Friday, September 12, 2008
This is a very interesting development indeed. You're right that the BMLA's position is a bit vulnerable. The reason is simply demographic and economic, as I understand it.
Beijing has more lawyers than any other city in the country. By 2007 Beijing already had more than 15,000 lawyers, and this number is growing at a speed of about 2,000 lawyers per year. Every lawyer pays 2,500 yuan annual "membership fee" to the BMLA. This gives the BMLA about 40 million yuan in revenue every year. On the other hand, the BMLA has only about 30-35 regular staff. To spend the money they have bought floors in a nice office building as office space, sponsored many overseas trips for the leaders of the justice bureau, BMLA and a small number of leading lawyers, started to conduct a survey of the Beijing bar every other year, and paid for an annual health examination of all lawyers. But still the money is mostly used in ways that do not necessarily benefit the vast majority of lawyers in the city. The grievance of those "migrant lawyers" who came from out-of-town places is particularly strong as their practice is often poorly supported by the firms and the BMLA.
Given this background, it is not surprising that these 35 lawyers can do something like this, with an even more stunning "cultural revolution"-style response from the BMLA. My feeling is that the crucial issue now is whether the call of these 35 lawyers, mostly ordinary practitioners at the periphery of the bar, could win the support of elite members of the Beijing bar, many of whom assume positions in the BMLA.