How Important Is Collegiality?
The importance of cultural traits depends on how you define success.
by Ed Wesemann
Ask any law firm managing partner what his or her firm's culture is like and, more than likely, you'll hear, "We're collegial." Even though the dictionary tells us that collegiality has something to do with "Power sharing by bishops," I suspect that the meaning in law firm parlance involves people liking each other. Now, I have probably worked with a couple of hundred law firms in my career and I've seen very few where the partners actively hate each other. So, while partners' mutual affection for one another makes up only one aspect of a law firm's culture (along with Values, Governance and Strategic Focus), it is the aspect with which lawyers always seem most concerned.
At the Edge Group, we do a lot of work with firms to identify and manage their cultures, so we have devoted a lot of study to the concept of Collegiality (recognizing that it is only one aspect of a firm's overall culture). While there are lots of aspects of collegiality, we believe there are seven primary elements that directly impact on law firms' operations.
- Camaraderie is most commonly thought of as an element of collegiality. It involves the degree to which people like each other and get along on a functional basis.
- Collaboration, both among groups and individuals, is the degree to which people feel comfortable working as a team as opposed to primarily functioning as individuals.
- Egalitarianism involves the willingness of people to support actions by the firm that do not benefit them personally.
- Social Interaction represents the degree to which people socialize with people from the firm outside the business setting (the intermixing of personal and business lives).
- Deviation is the firm's willingness to enforce social norms in tolerance of bad behavior.
- Participation involves the degree to which participation in the management of the firm is expected of its members.
- Generationism is the degree of respect and recognition accorded to seniority in the firm's operations.
As we look at these elements in a large data base of firms, two simple truths prevail. First, collegiality is different in every law firm. The difference may only involve nuances but, essentially, no two firms are alike. And second, as a cultural element, collegiality seems to make no difference to the financial performance of a law firm. That's right, our experience shows that high-performing law firms have as broad a range of collegiality as do poorly performing firms.
Does this mean that a firm's culture has nothing to do with its profitability? Absolutely not. In fact there are some distinct cultural traits that correlate with performance. But what seems to be most important is not the nature of a firm's culture but how uniformly it is shared by the members of the firm. So, while the most highly performing firms may have vastly different cultures, there is one common aspect among them - they tend to have a reasonably uniform and shared culture among all offices and practice groups.
Not surprisingly, it all comes down to the definition of success. Want a more profitable firm? Focus less on collegiality and more on having a shared value system and a clearly understood and accepted strategic focus. But, at the same time, for lawyers at a good number of firms success involves the day-to-day enjoyment of practicing law in a pleasant work place. For them, collegiality trumps profitability.
Don't Let "Age Profiling" Slow Your Firm
A lot of self-defeating nonsense can emerge from stereotyping lawyers by age
Contact the author, Gerry Riskin
Both older and younger lawyers can let all kinds of inter-generational nonsense get in the way of clear thinking. The misunderstandings that result can do actual damage to their firms.
Older lawyers have told me that lawyers in the younger generation simply do not have the values that they did when they started out. "The younger generation expects to have it all," they say. "They don't need to earn it the way we did. They lack our principles and they lack empathy. Mature lawyers have to suffer and figure out what to do with these aberrations."
For their part, younger lawyers often have knowledge of technology that the senior lawyers at the firm do not. Some seem to believe that the mature generation should just scramble into their graves. Then, free of the deadwood, they will be able to get on with utilizing the best and most modern technology to serve the clients of the firm.
As most rational people realize, both points of view are riddled with emotional nonsense. The younger generation is not lazy. The younger generation does not lack values. The younger generation has empathy and wants to serve others. They may want to do things a little differently than their predecessors, but they are no less righteous or valuable.
For their part, some senior people at law firms understand technology better than the newer generations. "What?" you may say. "How can this be? The younger generation texts, rather than using voice mail. These younger lawyers understand gaming technology. Isn't gamification an important new concept with a host of real-world applications?"
These are opinions. But what is the reality? In my work with law firms, I have noticed that while the younger generation may text rather than use voice mail, and may prefer email to picking up the telephone, there is no guarantee whatsoever that the thirty-something lawyer has any clue about how to use current technology to manage projects or to streamline systems. Please note that I didn't say that the younger generation isn't at the forefront of the evolving technology. It is. But for the most part, the technology leaders just don't happen to be lawyers. Furthermore, in many of the firms I serve, it is the senior practitioners who have been struggling to figure out how to add value to quench the insatiable appetite of the ever-more demanding clients. Not every senior lawyer is so forward-thinking, to be sure, but a good many of them are.
In short, you simply can't predict mindset or receptivity based on vintage or era. To do so is "ageism" - whether you are making presumptions about younger people or older ones.
My strong recommendation to those law firms who do not yet have research and development (and/or "skunk works") groups is that they get busy and start forming them. And don't let your bigotry exclude any generation. Invite those who are interested. Invite those who care. Let them run up the mast and be your early warning system. Give them some room. They don't need a lot of budget to read and explore and understand what is going on around them. And if they do recommend something, be slow to reject their recommendation.
Legal League Consulting, LLC
Delhi and Mumbai,