This paper studies the roles of lawyers in shaping judicial and economic outcomes, exploiting the unique setting of “revolving-door” lawyers in China’s judicial system. By compiling the first comprehensive dataset covering the universes of judges, lawyers, law firms, litigants, and lawsuits in China from 2014 to 2022, we identify over 15,000 judges who left their positions and joined private law firms as lawyers, which accounts for 7.5% of all judges (1.5% of all lawyers) nationwide. We document four main empirical patterns. First, in both criminal and commercial lawsuits, these revolving-door lawyers enjoy significant advantages in securing favorable court decisions for their clients. Second, leveraging intra-lawyer variation in performances at home vs. away courts, we show that the edge for revolving door lawyers come from both “know who” and “know how.” Third, revolving-door lawyers add significant values to their firms beyond their roles as frontline lawyers, by mentoring junior colleagues and attracting larger clients. Fourth, the revolving door lawyers, by joining larger law firms that serve richer/larger customers, create systematic inequalities in criminal and civil trials in China.
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