This article examines the factors underlying the political positioning of lawyers in Hong Kong. It responds to contemporary debates on the sociology of professions by arguing that the ‘professional project’ – which sees social status and market monopoly as the profession's primary goals – cannot fully explain lawyers’ political behaviour under state-society dynamics. Hong Kong's case is particularly instructive. Ethnically Chinese, yet practising British common law, Hong Kong saw its sovereignty shift from Britain to China on 1 July 1997. The ideological difference between its two branches of legal professionals – barristers and solicitors – has since become more apparent. With reference to cause lawyering, this article highlights the roles of political ideology, the nature of the lawyer-client relationship and legal education in shaping the political orientation of lawyers. It offers insight into how Hong Kong's legal profession must constantly negotiate with a regime that has not traditionally championed the rule of law.