AbstractsLaw & Legal Studies

The management of professional partnerships: law firms as managed businesses and lawyer’s accommodation of changing professionalism

by Juliet Andrews

Institution: University of New South Wales
Department: Management
Year: 2014
Keywords: Partnership; Professionalism; Archetypes; Lawyer
Record ID: 1045943
Full text PDF: http://handle.unsw.edu.au/1959.4/54203


In addressing external and internal pressures, large legal Professional Service Firms (PSFs) in Australia are adopting a more commercial and managerial orientation. Senior practitioners and legal institutions express concern over this increasing threat to the traditions of the profession. Examining two large commercial law firms and one smaller, the research employs a comparative case study approach to understand the extent of managerialism in the firms, outcomes for the profession and outcomes for its members. Drawing on archetype theory to frame the research, qualitative and quantitative methods were applied to determine the correspondence of each case firm to a traditional professional archetype form, the Professional Partnership (P2) or the Managerial Professional Business (MPB). Data from lawyers from the three case-study firms was collected and analysed to better understand individual lawyer responses to increased managerialism. The research found that while the larger firms correspond to many of the elements of the MPB, important differences emerged. First, a retention of traditional professionalism remains evident in the firms, as partners and specialist managers attempt to maintain a semblance of conventional values, structure and systems. Second, some elements of managerialism are more extensive than those articulated in the MPB. Accordingly, a new archetype form is proposed, the Professionally Managed Partnership (PMP). This more accurately describes the organisation and management of these firms, and possibly the broader sector of large commercial firms. The smaller case firm in general displays more traditional values, beliefs, structures and systems, yet is not entirely of the P2 type. The individual professional responses further revealed that lawyers in all case firms accommodate facets of managerialism, and the norms and practices of this altered professional mode are accepted and understood. The thesis proposes that the intersection of managerial and traditional values and beliefs exist within a new conceptualisation of professionalism, incorporating greater market dominance while retaining features of tradition. Market professionalism places the client at the centre of the professional environment and incorporates managerial practices, within a traditional partnership structure, to meet client demand. These managerial and market features may become commonplace in the legal sector, signalling a permanent alteration in professionalism.