On the Consequences of Defensive Professionalism: Recent Changes in the Legal Labour Process

Date01 December 2005
Published date01 December 2005
AuthorDaniel Muzio,Stephen Ackroyd
ISSN: 0263-323X, pp. 615±42
On the Consequences of Defensive Professionalism:
Recent Changes in the Legal Labour Process
Daniel Muzio* and Stephen Ackroyd*
This study of change in the legal profession argues that governmental
policies, combined with economic recession and supply-side
considerations, have led to decline in the legal profession's historical
performance, and a defensive strategy which preserves the status and
earning power of equity partners. Related responses include a drive
towards organizational consolidation, a long-term increase in the
numbers of salaried solicitors, and fewer non-fee-earning support staff.
This involves a shift from external (or occupational) closure regimes,
which sanction entry to the profession, to internal (or organizational)
mechanisms, which regulate progression through the professional
hierarchy. The paper challenges hypotheses of deprofessionalization
and managerialization, and lends empirical support to Freidson's
continuity thesis whereby reorganization is safeguarding traditional
privileges and rewards for certain sections of the profession at the cost
of a progressive process of intra-occupational stratification.
The claim that the legal profession has been experiencing a period of
extensive change is a long-established one. Research inspired by a range of
theoretical perspectives is agreed on this point.
Whilst the idea of extensive
ßCardiff University Law School 2005, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road,
Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA
*Organisation, Work and Technology, Lancaster University Management
School, Lancaster LA1 4YK, England
d.muzio@lancaster.ac.uk s.ackroyd@lancaster.ac.uk
See R.L. Abel, The Legal Profession in England and Wales (1988); J. Flood, `Megalaw
in the UK: Professionalism or Corporatism? A Preliminary Report' (1989) 64 Indiana
Law J. 569±92; R. Lee, `From Profession to Business: the Rise and Rise of the City
Law Firm' (1992) 19 J. of Law and Society 31±48; H. Sommerlad, `Managerialism and
the Legal Profession: a New Professional Paradigm' (1995) 2 International J. of the
Legal Professions 159±85; J. Flood, `Megalawyering in the Global Order: the Cultural,
Social, Economic Transformation of Global Legal Practice' (1996) 3 International J.
change appears not to be contentious, there is, nonetheless, considerable
disagreement over the way such change should be interpreted and explained.
This is interesting not only because what is happening concerns the legal
profession itself, but also because the fate of this key occupation is relevant
to the consideration of broader questions on the prospects of professionalism
as a distinctive type of work organization.
A common theme of several schools of thought is that professions must
adapt to the changing business context, which is becoming more competitive
as well as increasingly critical of professional practices, claims, and arrange-
ments. A move towards more managed patterns of operation is thus thought
to be likely, because management provides the efficiency which professional
forms of organization and procedures are assumed to lack. Even if they do
not go so far as exponents of the de-professionalization thesis,
who suggest
that professional workers will lose their traditional abilities to control the
definition, execution, and evaluation of their work, so far as most observers
of the legal profession are concerned, external pressures will bring about the
abandonment of the profession's established traditions and modes of organi-
zation. Despite much evidence that professional patterns of organization
have shown considerable durability,
it is held by many that the work of
lawyers will become progressively subject to external control whilst tradi-
tional fo rms of pro fession al organi zation wi ll be aband oned. Two
approaches developing this kind of thesis can be distinguished.
On the one hand, exponents of archetype theory
have predicted increasing
of the Legal Professions 169±214; H. Kritzer, `The Professions are Dead, Long Live
the Professions: Legal Practice in a Postprofessional World' (1999) 33 Law & Society
Rev. 713±59; J. Flood, `Professionals Organizing Professionals: Comparing the Logic
of United States and United Kingdom Law Practice' in Restructuring the Professional
Organisation: Accounting, Healthcare, and Law, eds. D. Brock, M. Powell, and C.R.
Hinings (1999); H. Sommerlad, `The Implementation of Quality Initiatives and the
New Public Ma nagement in t he Legal Aid Sec tor in Englan d and Wales:
Bureaucraticisation, Stratification and Surveillance' (1999) 6 International J. of the
Legal Profession 311±35; H. Sommerlad and D. Wall, Legally Aided Clients and their
Solicitors: Qualitative Perspectives on Quality and Legal Aid (1999); R.L. Abel, The
Politics of Professionalism, Lawyers between Markets and State, from the Green
Papers to the Access of Justice Act (2003).
2 See C. Derber, W.A. Schwartz, and Y. Magrass, Power in the Highest Degree:
Professionals and the Rise of the New Mandarin Order (1991); B. Burris, Tech-
nocracy at Works (1993); S. Aronowitz and W. Di Fazio, The Jobless Future (1995).
3 A. Abbott, The System of Professions: An Essay on the Division of Expert Labour
(1988 ); S. Ack royd, ` Organ isati on cont ra Orga nisat ion: Pr ofess ions an d
Organisational Change in the United Kingdom' (1996) 17 Organization Studies
599±621; D. Muzio, `The Professional Project and the Contemporary Re-Organiza-
tion of the Legal Profession in England and Wales' (2004) 11 International J. of the
Legal Profession 33±50.
4 See R. Greenwood, C.R. Hinings, and J. Brown, ` ``P2-form''Strategic Management:
Corporate Practices in Professional Partnerships' (1990) 33 Academy of Manage-
ment J. 725±55; R. Greenwood and C.R. Hinings `Understanding Strategic Change:
the Contribution of Archetypes' (1993) 36 Academy of Management J. 1053±81; D.J.
ßCardiff University Law School 2005

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