in Law Firms
Bal - kan - ize: to
divide into small, quarrelsome, ineffectual states.
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:
- The client's perception of the quality of services that firm provides,
- The level of client satisfaction.
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.
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.
We learn by dialogue. We invite your comments by
or toll free call.
Advocates Management, Inc.
1332 South 26th Street
Manitowoc, WI 54220
Voice: (toll free)(877) ADVOCATES
Fax: (920) 684-4414
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