Balkanization
in Law Firms

Bal - kan - ize: to divide into small, quarrelsome, ineffectual states.

Theory
The road to law firm hell is paved with good intentions and the parade down that road, and sometimes all the way to dissolution, is cheered on by folks who think the way they each see things is the way things truly are. It's not whether they are right or wrong, it is that in terms of the harmony within the firm, it doesn't matter.

Effective harmony within a law firm is an important factor in:

While firms and their clients may believe that they are buying "quality legal services" and that what happens inside the firm that produces them is irrelevant, this is not the case. (Which would you rather have your life saving delicate surgery performed by: a surgeon in the top 5% of his / her profession supported by an operation room staff of people who don't understand or like him / her and don't quite get what he / she means, or one in the top 25% supported by an team without the underlying communications and relationship baggage?) The effective harmony within the law firm is directly proportional to the efficiency of the work and the perception of quality by the client.

We say "effective harmony" because we mean something beyond the absence of the public display of discord. After all, the idiot's Christmas party is pretty harmonious.

Effective harmony is the conclusion of mutual understanding and functional communication within the firm. It is not a touchy-feely level of emotion or self-effacing sympathy. The military understands this. It is not necessary that commanders like each other, but they must work with effective harmony to accomplish the mission at hand.

Take a look at your firm's prime directive. "You eat what your kill" does not in and of itself mean that your firm is balkanized nor does a compensation package based in part on fee generation act as a bar to effective harmony. It is not competition that causes firm balkanization, but in the absence of internal communication the balkanization process accelerates faster in a competitive environment. Balkanization can occur in firms with a "we all eat an equal share of what we collectively kill" prime directive. This form of the disease is usually marked by a question in the mind of the stakeholders' friends and family to the effect "Why does _(fill in any name)_ continue to practice with these guys?".

Effective harmony benefits a firm by releasing a significant portion of the stakeholders time and energy and allowing them to focus on those things that satisfy the client and produce income for the firm.

Practice

One symptom of balkanization is the "grass is always greener on the other side of the fence" syndrome. Stakeholders rarely share the existence of this symptom with each other. One of the benefits of working with a third party on these issues is the ability of the third party to promise (and deliver) confidentiality in the investigation and analysis of these issues.

There is a level of research that may be more important to the future of a law firm than Clientcentric Research™. It is the examination, within the stakeholders themselves, of the effectiveness of their individual attitudes and behaviors as they relate each to the other in terms of the firm's vision and mission.

Remember that balkanization disease is infectious. Lateral transfers into your firm by those who became infected in and then left another firm put your firm at risk. The fact that someone coming into your firm is a "good lawyer" is of no benefit if the incremental improvement in your firm's collective "skill" is more than offset by the degradation of your firm's internal effectiveness.

Within the discipline of human resource there are tools available to assess the means and mechanisms present in every individual by which we relate (read "work with") our fellow stakeholders.

If the stakeholders, especially the non-attorney stakeholders, "feel" there to be a level of balkanism within the firm, it should be addressed through outside resources. (Outside Resources are like the choir director at Sunday services. The hymn itself doesn't matter as much as the fact that everyone sings the same tune. In terms of resources - in law firms this means time more than money - it is cheaper to pay the choir director than to wait for the congregation - especially a congregation of competitive independent thinkers - to get to the same song on their own.)

Advocates Management, Inc., is experienced in assessing and mediating stakeholders attitudes and behaviors.


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