Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The End of the Tournament? The Re-Organization and Re-Professionalization of Large Law Firms in the 21st Century

(Skyscraper farms--the new law firm?)

I am writing an article for a sociology journal (hence the phraseology below) on large law firms in the 21st century. Here's the abstract and any comments will be most welcome.

Law has traditionally seen itself as unique among the professions in that it has been able to invoke notions of the “public interest” to articulate and to protect professional boundaries. With the rise of the large transnational law firm (LTLF) a conflict between the discourses of professionalism and organization has emerged. With the LTLF’s main orientation towards the market with its ideals of flexibility, mobility, and transparency organization appears to have overtaken the professional ethos. Yet, LTLFs have begun to reshape professionalism from within the organization by invoking new concepts of the meaning of profession. By re-engineering education and training and revisiting ethical compliance, for example, law firms are creating new ideas and professional boundaries which supersede those established by lawyers’
professional associations. LTLFs have formed alliances with other professional organizations, eg, investment banks and accounting firms, to augment their power and authority.

The new professional-organizational ethos is altering accepted notions of career (tournament), ethics/deontology (now conflicts of interest) and governance (transnational managerialism). This can be seen as a reflection of the state’s increasing role in interpreting organizations’ environments as well as LTLFs’ ability (and that of law) to shape the nature of the state’s acknowledgement of the profession’s claims. Moreover, these manoeuvres are bleeding over into the
professional mainstream beyond the large law firms. The organization itself has become a professional actor co-equal with the professional. These disruptions and reinterpretations are analyzed within a normative and discursive institutional context using a combination of historical and comparative data. They show a recursiveness between ideas of professionalism in the 19th and 21st centuries which suggest the era of post-professionalism is yet to be achieved.


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