New career models in UK professional service firms: from up-or-out to up-and-going-nowhere?

Namrata Malhotra, Tim Morris, Michael Smets

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


In this paper, we empirically examine how professional service firms are adapting their promotion and career models to new market and institutional pressures, without losing the benefits of the traditional up-or-out tournament. Based on an in-depth qualitative study of 10 large UK based law firms we find that most of these firms do not have a formal up-or-out policy but that the up-or-out rule operates in practice. We also find that most firms have introduced alternative roles and a novel career policy that offers a holistic learning and development deal to associates without any expectation that unsuccessful candidates for promotion to partner should quit the firm. While this policy and the new roles formally contradict the principle of up-or-out by creating permanent non-partner positions, in practice they coexist. We conclude that the motivational power of the up-or-out tournament remains intact, notwithstanding the changes to the internal labour market structure of these professional service firms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1396-1413
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Human Resource Management
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Bibliographical note

This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in Malhotra, N., Morris, T., & Smets, M. (2010). New career models in UK professional service firms: from up-or-out to up-and-going-nowhere? International journal of human resource management, 21(9), 1396-1413. International journal of human resource management © 2010 Taylor & Francis, available online at:


  • careers
  • tournament theory
  • professional services
  • law

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  • Research Output

    • 1 Chapter (peer-reviewed)
    • 1 Paper

    Changing career models and capacity for innovation in professional services

    Smets, M., Morris, T. & Malhotra, N., 31 Oct 2012, Handbook of research on entrepreneurship in professional services. Reihlen, M. & Werr, A. (eds.). Edward Elgar, p. 127-147 21 p. (Elgar original reference).

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)

    Open Access
  • Multi-level institutional work: maintaining or disputing up-or-out tournaments in elite law firms?

    Malhotra, N., Morris, T. & Smets, M., 2008.

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

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