Developing a taxonomy of Australasian law firms using configurations of human resources and management
thesisposted on 2022-03-29, 02:17 authored by Andrew A. Heys
The way law and other professional services firms (PSFs) respond to pressures, such as globalisation, increased competition, de-regulation and the demands of better-informed clients, has led researchers in recent decades to focus on archetypal change, especially among law firms and accounting practices. Scholars employing the archetype concept have broadly noted a move away from the dominant'P²' archetype toward a greater diversity of forms, many of which closely resemble the managed professional business (or MPB) archetype, a more managerial type of professional firm. -- The use of contemporary human resource management (HRM) practices as part of this more managerial orientation is apparently widespread, and may be substantiated by HR practitioners who seek to modernise the management systems of law firms, by reference to a wider body of research that demonstrates links between HRM practices, high-performance work systems and organisational performance. However, there remains little empirical evidence to support conclusions about the utility of these more corporate HR practices and work systems among law firms. -- This research investigated the composition and presence of performance-oriented HR and management configurations in a sample of 45 Australasian law firms. The research employed a sequential mixed-methods approach, including convergent interviews, survey design and cluster analysis to classify law firms based on their patterns of use of performance-oriented management practices. Financial performance data were also sought from the firms with the aim of investigating firm performance across and within the clusters. -- The cluster analysis identified three main HR and management configurations. 'Democratic Traditionalists', the largest group (n=19), have adopted contemporary HR practices selectively and use a configuration broadly consistent with the classic P² archetype. 'Performance-oriented Progressives' (n=16) more reflect the MPB archetype. 'Laissez faire' firms (n=6) adopt a market-based HR system in which coordination and support for professionals is lacking. And an emerging configuration, the 'Regionals' (n=3), appear to operate in stable and less competitive markets and use a traditional approach to law firm management. -- This research advances knowledge about the use of contemporary management systems by law firms and has found three clearly distinct configurations of human resources and management. The classification system used here differs from the macro 'structures, systems, values' approach widely used in law firm research. This project advances emerging lines of inquiry about management systems and organisational performance in professional services firms. The research method developed and the resultant taxonomy also makes a methodological contribution and may be useful for ongoing configurational research across the wider professional services sector.