‘Hybrid-Professionalism' in Professional Service Firms: The Case of Compliance Officers in English Law Firms

Monday, 11 July 2016: 14:15
Location: Hörsaal III (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Sundeep AULAKH, University of Leeds, United Kingdom
Ian KIRKPATRICK, University of Leeds, United Kingdom
Joan LOUGHREY, University of Leeds, United Kingdom
The changing relationship between professionalism and management is a topic that continues to generate much debate in which recent scholarship explores the question of how some professionals have become increasingly implicated in management work (Gleeson and Knights, 2006). Often referred to as hybrid professional-managers’ (Kirkpatrick, forthcoming), such roles have been the subject of considerable research in the public sector (particularly health) but not so in professional service firms where their emergence has attracted much less attention.  

Drawing on a qualitative study, this paper addresses this gap by focusing on the emergence of a new statutory role in English law firms – Compliance Officers for Legal Practice (COLPs). The regulator for the solicitors’ profession (Solicitors Regulatory Authority) made these roles compulsory as part of a broader set of regulatory reforms with the new regime marking a significant move towards ‘management-based regulation’ (Parker et al., 2010). The SRA views the COLP role as pivotal to ensuring firms realize mandatory regulatory outcomes by introducing robust management practices and supporting law firms to “make the mental transition from profession to business” (Still and Calvert 2012: 33). As the SRA has made it compulsory that such roles be performed lawyers – who risk losing their practicing certificate if found to be negligent in their duties– this paper explores how the COLP roles are being enacted in practice. We examine lawyers’ motives for becoming COLPs, how they rationalize their activities, and the challenges they encounter in combining professional and organisational modes of working. In so doing, the paper furthers our understanding of the nature, rationale and motives of hybrid professional-manger roles in professional service firms.