Aligning identity in legal services firms
: do senior partners in legal services firms possess the core characteristics of identity to work in alignment within the firm?

  • Sally Anne Vanson

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This exploratory study used grounded theory to discover whether senior partners in legal services firms in the UK held the core characteristics of identity to work in alignment in the changing context.

Using a combination of participant interviews and secondary analysis of published material, knowledge was generated to review some changes resulting from the Legal Services Act, the components of identity, and individual and peer alignment in these senior partners. The term ‘alignment’ is used in this study to describe both a state and a process.

The study suggests that senior partners do not currently display many of the attributes to take their firms into a successful future. Senior partners reported living a facade, having difficulties with boundaries and the complex role of partner. They seem to focus on eliminating problems rather than striving to achieve goals, and are more interested in ‘I’ than ‘we’. All of this presents huge challenges for a successful response by the firms to deregulation. There was little evidence of simultaneous identification with the firm and the profession, and this with other findings left a gap between the individual and the collective as well as a gap between the role and core identities of the individual.

More positively, there is some evidence of identity negotiation and where participants were doing some personal change work, this was driven by the hindrances to, and supporting beliefs about, the required behaviour at work, and possibly informed by an imagined image of best ‘self’ or ‘group member’.

The findings support a practitioner model; ‘CONTRIBUTIONS’ which is useful for coaching and facilitation of individuals and teams. The study offers original contributions to academic knowledge including; building on the ‘identification’ literature, linking in the concept of ‘secondary gain’, specific evidence from the legal partner group against generic concepts of identity literature.
Date of AwardJun 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorCharlotte Rayner (Supervisor)

Cite this