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Social Capital, Relational Inequality Theory, and Earnings of Racial Minority Lawyers

Race, Identity and Work

ISBN: 978-1-78769-502-3, eISBN: 978-1-78769-501-6

Publication date: 7 November 2018


Building on relational inequality theory, this paper incorporates social capital as a device to trace the flow of resources through relationships originating within and beyond organizations. I draw on a survey of over 1,700 lawyers to evaluate key dynamics of social capital that shape earnings: bridging and bonding, reciprocity exchanges and sponsorship, and boundary maintenance. The findings show social capital lends a lift to law graduates through bridges to professional careers and sponsorship following job entry. Racial minorities, however, suffer a shortfall of personal networks to facilitate job searches, and once having secured jobs, minorities experience social closure practices by clients and colleagues that disadvantage them in their professional work. A sizeable earnings gap remains between racial minority and white lawyers after controlling for human and social capitals, social closure practices, and organizational context. This earnings gap is particularly large among racial minorities with more years of experience and those working in large law firms. The findings demonstrate the importance of identifying the interrelations that connect social network and organizational context to impact social inequality.




I wish to acknowledge the financial support provided to this project by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Law Foundation of Ontario, and the Law Society of Upper Canada. I thank Tara Carnochan and Katharine Zhang for valuable research assistance. The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Law Society of Upper Canada.


Kay, F.M. (2018), "Social Capital, Relational Inequality Theory, and Earnings of Racial Minority Lawyers", Race, Identity and Work (Research in the Sociology of Work, Vol. 32), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 63-90.



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