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Following versus breaking with precedent : organizational conformity and deviation in the British Columbia legal profession Cliff, Jennifer E.

Abstract

This study investigates the effect of founders socialization experiences and contextual interpretations on the deviation of recently-established law firms from the dominant organizational form in the B.C. legal profession. Through this research I address three issues fundamental to the neo-institutional perspective on organizational analysis: 1) whether consensually-understood frameworks exist in highly-institutionalized environments, 2) the extent to which new entrants to such industries reproduce or depart from these prescribed arrangements, and 3) why some conform while others deviate. In the first phase of my investigation, I ascertained the nature of the legal profession s dominant template for organizing by analyzing qualitative data collected from multiple data sources including both observers of and practitioners within this industry. I subsequently validated this template by collecting quantitative data through a survey administered to a panel of lawyers. The results support the existence of a commonly- perceived template for organizing in the B.C. legal profession. In the second phase of my research, I investigated sixty recently-established law firms in B.C. Through a background questionnaire and personal interview conducted with the founder of each firm, I collected data on multiple dimensions of form, the founder s experience, and his or her rationale for designing the firm in a certain way. I also administered a survey to a separate panel of lawyers, to obtain their perceptions of the extent to which alternative arrangements differed from those of the dominant template. This data was used to calculate deviation measures for the recentlyestablished firms. The results revealed that, despite the prevalence with which founders voiced disenchantment with the dominant template, 85% of their firms exhibited very little deviation from the normative form. Thus, it appears that most new entrants to a highlyinstitutionalized setting act primarily as agents of institutional perpetuation rather than entrepreneurship. The 15% that exhibited greater deviation tended to be headed by founders with less experience in the industry s most prominent organizations and by those who most strongly questioned the moral legitimacy of prevailing organizational arrangements. Experience in marginal organizations or other industries, as well as doubts about the dominant template s pragmatic legitimacy, were insufficient triggers of new entrant deviation.

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