Drift or alignment? A configurational analysis of law firms' ability to combine profitability with professionalism


Journal of Professions and Organization

July 2017, vol. 24, n°2, pp.123-148

Departments: Management & Human Resources, GREGHEC (CNRS)

Hybrid structures are the result of an adaptation process through which organizations come to adhere to the demands of the multiple logics they face. Yet many unanswered questions regarding the effects of hybridity on securing organizational goals remain. In this article, we focus on law firms, hybrids that have to reach the dual objectives of profits and professionalism, rooted in the commercial/managerial and professional/trustee logics, respectively. Drawing on the institutional logics, professional service firms, and configurational theory literatures, and using set-theoretic methods on survey data collected on 278 Dutch law firms, we explore how organizational design elements that are congruent with the aforementioned logics are combined and how they contribute to securing different organizational goals. We find evidence of different types of hybrid structures occurring alongside one another, which tend to score differently on the performance dimensions. First, dominant hybrids assure superior performance along either the profitability or the professionalism dimension. Second, certain hybrids have experienced slippage. Whereas these slipped hybrids outperform in one dimension, they underperform on the alternative dimension due to their excessive focus. We also find evidence of a few aligned configurations. These ensure above-average results along both outcome dimensions, either by adopting a balanced set of core practices or by achieving balance in their overall configuration. Finally, when faced with organizational contingencies that force law firms to adopt more formal practices, these aligned hybrids restore their configurational balance by adopting core practices rooted in the professional logic