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What are Professional Services?

By Dale Marshall
Updated May 16, 2024
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Professional services are those services which, when competently provided, require specialized long-term training in, and demonstrated mastery of, one of the new or traditional professions, such as law, medicine, architecture, engineering and a great many others. Often infrequent in nature, professional services usually consist of unique or technical elements, expertise in which is attained only after rigorous training and certified by established authorities in the field. Professional services are frequently delivered on a consultancy basis by independent contractors, such as accountants or lawyers working on their own or within small enterprises. It's not uncommon, though, for large organizations to hire professionals such as accountants or lawyers directly, rather than contract with a separate firm for such professional services.

The original professions were the law, medicine, and divinity. To become a professional in these fields, a person had to devote himself to long and vigorous training, often including an apprenticeship, before undergoing a rigorous examination by established members of the profession. Upon certification as a practitioner, however, one could generally count on enhanced compensation, social status and power. These early professionals generally operated as independent contractors, but in later times, it was common for legal professionals to band together and form partnerships or firms. In addition, through some periods of history, the certification and licensing process wasn't as rigorous as in the modern era, and many professionals were simply self-proclaimed.

In the modern era, there are many more professions than the original three, but it cannot be said that every field for which college or university degrees are conferred qualifies as a profession, although having a body of knowledge represented by a post-secondary degree is an attribute common to all professions. Another is the existence of professional associations — organizations whose members share the same professional credentials. Such associations generally establish minimum standards of academic achievement and experience, and often require candidates to submit to examinations to establish their competence in the field. Upon satisfactory achievement of these standards, the candidate is certified and issued a license or professional designation. In many cases, governments defer to these associations, recognizing the licenses they grant and prohibiting the practice of the profession by anyone not holding such a license. Medicine and the law are two such professions whose associations control entry into their fields, and for which severe penalties exist for practicing without a license.

Professional services, then, are performed by practitioners of professions in which they’ve completed a thorough course of study. They’ve achieved a level of expertise in that field and demonstrated that mastery by meeting standards established by those who’ve already demonstrated their expertise. Employment in their profession is available both through partnerships and other enterprises devoted to the profession’s practice, such as law firms and hospitals, or through larger organizations whose need for such professional services is so great that it justifies direct employment of such professionals, such as large manufacturers that employ attorneys.

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