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Improving professional service operations: action research in a law firm

Krishna Chaitanya Balthu (Operations and Information Management Department, Aston Business School, Aston University, Birmingham, UK)
Ben Clegg (Operations and Information Management Department, Aston Business School, Aston University, Birmingham, UK)

International Journal of Operations & Production Management

ISSN: 0144-3577

Article publication date: 11 June 2021

Issue publication date: 19 August 2021




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.



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


Balthu, K.C. and Clegg, B. (2021), "Improving professional service operations: action research in a law firm", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 41 No. 6, pp. 805-829.



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