To participate in the global economy authoritarian states are pressed to offer international business a legal order that protects the interests of investors, customers, and sellers, but the creation of a modern legal order threatens to undermine the leaders’ control of public life. An increasingly common way to resolve this dilemma, I argue, is developing formal legal institutions that appear to meet world standards, while using informal practices to maintain control over the administration of justice when needed. In this paper I show how the governments of post-Soviet Russia (with its hybrid or competitive authoritarian regime) and the fully authoritarian People’s Republic of China as well, have used this approach in their relations with judges and defense lawyers in their respective countries. The analysis underscores the utility of investigating informal practices along with the reform of formal legal institutions, especially in the context of transition.

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