The Changing Value of Social Capital in an Expanding Social System: Lawyers in the Chicago Bar, 1975 and 1995

Rebecca L Sandefur, Edward O. Laumann, John P Heinz

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Social capital is’ some aspect of a social structure’ (Coleman 1990: 302) that acts as a resource that individuals may appropriate and use for their own purposes. In this paper, we examine the economic value of ties to local professional elites: specifically, the income returns to Chicago lawyers of contacts among the elite of the Chicago bar. Contact with the elite of the bar represents a channel through which rank and file lawyers may ‘tap in’ to the social structure of the bar and acquire valuable resources. The information and influence lawyers access through contacts with notables are properties of the corporate organization of the bar, and, as such, are benefits of corporate social capital. We briefly outline a theory of social capital and suggest ways in which elite ties may act as social capital. We then discuss changes in the social organization of the bar and suggest how these changes may affect the value of the social capital represented in elite contacts. We reason that acquaintance with elites will become more valuable because of the relative scarcity of such contacts in larger social systems. In analyses of factors affecting lawyers’ incomes, we find evidence consistent with the hypothesis that ties to elite system members are more valuable in a larger system.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCorporate Social Capital and Liability
EditorsRoger Th A J Leenders, Shaul M Gabbay
PublisherKluwer Academic
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-4615-5027-3
ISBN (Print)978-0-7923-8501-1, 978-1-4613-7284-4
StatePublished - 1999


  • social capital
  • class rank
  • solo practice
  • expand social system
  • professional misconduct


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