Achieving Inclusiveness: Change, Transformation and the "Us" Dynamic in Today's Law Firm

Published 11/01/2009

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Every law firm is, or should be, a team, with lawyers, staff and support personnel committed to a collaborative effort for providing the best possible service and work product for the benefit of clients. Involving everyone in the office so that they feel a sense of inclusiveness – understanding their roles and looking forward to exercising them – creates a better and more successful firm. At too many law firms, unfortunately, this does not exist, often due to lawyer personality traits that create challenges for administrators, staff, paralegals and even associates. Lawyers primarily focus on the tasks at hand and getting results, leaving little room for camaraderie and support. Inclusiveness will produce more harmony for all, increase productivity and therefore form profitability.

But studies have shown that inclusiveness is difficult for lawyers, who tend to be more skeptical, impatient and intense – and less interactive and able to take criticism – than people in general. One study compared the differences between lawyers and salespeople. Lawyers can't handle rejection; and "losing" a trial is perceived as rejection, which can negatively impact a lawyer for days or weeks after the trial is over. Salespeople, on the other hand, accept rejection as part of the ladder to a successful close. This represents a major difference in personality traits. And when lawyers fail to make positive connections with team members, it breeds inefficiencies in the firm and, ultimately, poor client relations.

Lack of inclusiveness, made more intense by pressures created by the current economic conditions, can even create a dysfunctional firm. Lawyers may ask firm members and staff for achievements that are beyond their reach without providing explanations or resources. Creating, for example, deadlines that are not real, or whose failure to be achieved would have no negative impact, is a trait commonly associated with supervising attorneys. Accurately or not, the lawyers are seen as trying to fool the other members of the firm by saying things that cannot be believed, and anger is too often the result.

An angry law firm is one doomed to failure. It's far better to be open and honest about what a firm needs to achieve – and to work as a team, with everyone having the same agenda – using sufficient resources to achieve agreed-upon goals.

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