The reconstructed professional firm: Explaining change in english legal practices

Stephen Ackroyd*, Daniel Muzio

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The paper provides a structural analysis of change in the English and Welsh legal profession over the last 25 years, using concepts drawn from Weberian sociology of the professions and more recent theory connecting agency and structure. Through a consideration of data returned to the Law Society, and other data, this paper outlines changes in the internal division of labour in English law firms. It is argued that, in response to external threats, especially the growth in the numbers of qualified recruits, the elite of the profession has reworked professional closure. From controlling access to training places (i.e. labour market closure), legal firms have shifted towards controlling conditions of work and promotion (identified as internal organizational closure). This has produced recognizable effects: it has sustained the remuneration and status of the professional elite of partners, but has also allowed the assimilation of large numbers of recruits to the profession, and the expansion in the size of legal firms, as well as supporting their continued profitability. However, the changes have also involved deterioration in the conditions of work and the promotion prospects of employed solicitors, and produced other effects considered in the paper. The argument is concluded with some critical comments on the work of the archetype theorists whose research into the organization of the professions is widely taken as authoritative. These authors suggest that the introduction of management is a defining characteristic of current reorganization of the legal profession among others, as is indicated by their notion of the managed professional business (MPB). It is suggested, instead, that engagement with management by the professional elite of legal firms in this study is at best rhetorical, and contemporary change in English law firms is better understood as the emergence of a reconstructed professional firm (RPF) based on a new professional closure regime.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)729-747
Number of pages19
JournalOrganization Studies
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2007


  • Agency and structure
  • Closure
  • Legal profession
  • The reconstructed professional firm

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