Are governance practices employed by professional service firms equally effective in preventing professional-client misconduct for professionals at different stages of their career? Drawing upon professional-agency theory and the literature documenting professional career patterns, we develop a multilevel theoretical model to answer this question. We test our model in the empirical context of the Dutch legal profession, using firm-level survey data on 142 law firms and individual-level archival data from the 2994 lawyers working for these firms to explain 97 formally adjudicated complaints of professional-client misconduct committed by individual lawyers registered with the Amsterdam Bar Association. We find that the ‘orthodox’ distinction between informal behavioral and formal outcome-based governance practices is too course-grained to receive empirical support, and that firm-level governance practices only reduce professional-client misconduct when they are specifically targeted at the career stage of the lawyers employed. Our findings not only allow us to develop a finer-grained version of Sharma’s professional-agency model, but may also be practically useful in developing firm-level governance practices targeted at different strata of professionals.

career stage, hierarchical linear model, organizational governance, professional misconduct, professional service firm,
Human Relations
Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), Erasmus University

Lander, M.W, van Oosterhout, J, Heugens, P.P.M.A.R, & Pruijssers, J.K.L.P. (2018). Career stage dependent effects of law firm governance. Human Relations, 71(Forthcoming). doi:10.1177/0018726718796157