Organizational and Professional Commitment in Professional and Nonprofessional Organizations

Article excerpt

This study of lawyers examines the degree to which professionals in general and lawyers in particular are committed to their profession and the organizations that employ them. I examine how the different structural arrangements of professional and nonprofessional organizations relate to lawyers' organizational and professional commitment. Results show that organizational commitment is highly dependent on perceived opportunities for career advancements and the criteria used in the distribution of rewards. Few of the structural characteristics are important in explaining professional commitment, and lawyers working in nonprofessional organizations are significantly less committed to the legal profession than those working in professional organizations. The results of this study suggest that future research must look beyond the structural characteristics of professionals' work settings if we want to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the factors affecting professional commitment.(*)

There has been a growing interest in the potentially competing loyalties that professionals may hold toward their profession and the employing organization as professionals are increasingly working in large, bureaucratic organizations. Traditionally, the literature assumed that the solo practitioner best exemplifies the ideal professional work situation and that once professionals become employees of organizations, the demands of bureaucracy conflict with their professional ideals (Parsons, 1954; Goode, 1957). This argument stems from the professional-bureaucratic conflict model, according to which there is an inherent conflict between professional and bureaucratic goals and values that results in competing loyalties among salaried professionals (Ben-David, 1958; Blau and Scott, 1962; Scott, 1966; Sorensen, 1967). When professionals work in bureaucratic organizations, they experience conflicting goals and feel compelled to choose one loyalty over another. Under such conditions, professional workers are expected to be more committed to their profession than to the employing organization. The empirical results of studies testing these arguments (e.g., Scott, 1965; Miller, 1967; Ritti, 1971), however, seriously challenge the utility of these simplistic models of bureaucracy and professions as starting points for understanding the complexities of both forms of organization and their impact on professionals' loyalty to the employing organization and their chosen profession (Benson, 1973; Davies, 1983).

The purpose of this paper is to examine the degree to which professionals in general and lawyers in particular are committed to their profession and the organizations that employ them. It is important to reexamine the debate about professional and organizational commitment because much of the literature has not kept pace with professionals' changing employment situations (Benson, 1973). While the earlier literature idealizes the professional model of the solo practitioner as best suited for professional work, in more contemporary Literature the mega-firm model is central, and it is argued to be totally at odds with the values and norms of professional work, sometimes obliterating them. Reality likely falls short of both of these extreme and idealized images of professional work and bureaucratic organization. The solo practitioner is not the preferred form in today's economy (Derber and Schwartz, 1991), and employment in large, bureaucratic mega-firms is applicable to only a small number of professional workers (Abel, 1989; Curran, 1989). Consequently, we need to look beyond these arguments that rest on extreme and ideal type models and examine instead the long-neglected typical work settings in which the majority of professionals work (Davies, 1983; Barley and Tolbert, 1991). Rather than making sweeping generalizations about the global incompatibility and inherent conflict between professionals and bureaucracy, it is more useful to examine and compare specific structural characteristics of the various types of organizations and how each of these affects one's organizational and professional commitment. …