Professional Service Networks - A Viable Model for the Future?


This is the first in a series of blogs that will look at the world of professional services networks; their future; different business models that can be followed to ensure their success; and what member firms need to do to capitalise on their membership of such networks.

Quentin Vaile, former head of the international network at UK law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, will be contributing regularly to this blog and I hope, over time, that others will feel free to make their opinions heard as well. Between us, Quentin and I have over 40 years’ experience of working in the professional services field, but it is a dynamic and rapidly changing market and we certainly don’t have a monopoly of good ideas.

There are some strong networks out there, and others that are struggling. There are some good member firms of networks, and others that are members for entirely the wrong reasons or with totally unrealistic expectations. We’ll be looking at all of this, and we won’t be pulling our punches. Some may find our comments uncomfortable and will undoubtedly stick their heads (even further) into the sand. Others, I hope, will accept them in the spirit with which they are offered and consider changes that may lead to the long-term sustainability of their organisations.

Before we kick off with the first blog next week, let me lay down a few markers. What do we mean by ‘professional services networks’? Essentially, they are groups of professional services firms that, whilst allowing members to retain their local independence, enable them to cooperate with other similar, like-minded firms on a national and/or international basis. Our definition also includes looser arrangements between independent firms – where these firms operate as a quasi-network in referring work to each other, but they are not part of a formal organisation.

The largest group of such networks is almost undoubtedly found within the accountancy world and, for the accountants amongst you, we mean ‘networks’ and ‘associations’, a distinction that will be lost on non-accountants, but it remains an important one nevertheless.

There are many other professions that have traditionally operated using network models – most notably the law. But with the growing sentiment that big is not always best, there has been a marked trend in recent years for smaller, high quality firms in many different professions – and indeed in some sectors which some of the more conservative would not classify as ‘professional’ – to eschew the advances of larger national or international organisations and retain their independence, seeking to serve the extra-territorial demands of their clients through the network model.

So, in addition to the accountancy and law sectors, there are growing numbers of networks in the world of property, insurance, executive search, engineering, advertising, graphic design and many, many more.

I am sure that different networks, and indeed different professions, can learn from one another and gain valuable insight. I hope that you will find this series of blogs of value.