Improving professional service operations: action research in a law firm

Krishna Balthu*, Ben Clegg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how action research-based interventions can effect change in a complex and challenging professional service environment (Lewis and Brown, 2012). This paper presents a successful way to do this. First, by eliciting factors for change driven by deregulation in the United Kingdom’s (UK) legal service sector (Falconer, 2005). Second, by designing and implementing context-sensitive change in a selected legal service firm.

This research adopts a participatory action research methodology involving the use of systems thinking (namely the PrOH modelling methodology) to design suitable interventions and catalyse change.

This study has generated new knowledge on three fronts–to the legal service operations, to methodology and to the intellectual framework used for abductive reasoning (Checkland and Poulter, 2006). Lessons are transferable to wider professional service operations research. Findings indicate, despite traditional challenges of delivering typical professional services, there is potential for rationalising processes and service delivery commodification, mainly in the low volume, high variety legal service typology (Silvestro et al., 1992).

Research limitations/implications:
This research uses data from an in-depth study of a single organisation.

Practical implications:
This research helped legal service professionals to improve overall efficiency and effectiveness and create new management tools.

Social implications:
This research could help improve legal service operations and make them more accessible.

This research applies a novel, systems thinking based methodology for the first time in a complex professional service operations environment leading to three-fold contributions in the areas of practice, theory and methodology. The paper uses a change management framework (the Change Kaleidoscope), a soft systems methodology (PrOH modelling) and applies these to legal services.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)805-829
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Journal of Operations and Production Management
Issue number6
Early online date11 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 19 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

This author accepted manuscript is deposited under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC) licence. This means that anyone may distribute, adapt, and build upon the work for non-commercial purposes, subject to full attribution. If you wish to use this manuscript for commercial purposes, please contact

Funding: This work was supported by the Innovate UK [KTP008633].


  • Action research
  • Change management
  • Legal service
  • Professional service firms
  • Professional service operations management
  • Soft systems methodology


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