Barry Camson is an organization development consultant and trainer who works with organizations to help them be more collaborative and effective. He is a former practicing attorney in Boston. He can be reached at bcamson@aol.com.

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What can the International Lawyers Network (ILN) of law firms contribute to our knowledge of what it takes for law firms to succeed in the 21st century?

 

David Maister in an article in the April 2006 issue of The American Lawyer raises the issue of: “Are Law Firms Manageable.” In that article he delves into the reasons why law firms may not be and why in meeting their contemporary business needs they should be. Maister wonders whether law firms will be able to respond to the need for effective cross-office and cross-disciplinary action in order to meet the needs of clients.

In this post, I will take this conversation a step further. For the same reasons that Mr. Maister decided in the negative, in a law firm network lawyers may very well be “manageable.” Looking at how the International Lawyers Network does this will be instructive.

Law Firm Environment

In his article Mr. Maister says that the ways of thinking and behaving that help lawyers excel in their profession may be the very things that limit what they can achieve as firms. He pursues the implications for firm management in the balance of the article.

In the article, Maister cites two issues germane to his hypothesis which are: problems with trust and professional detachment.

With regard to trust, he says that “to protect their clients, lawyers place the worst possible construction on the outcome of any idea or proposal, and on the motives, intentions, and likely behaviors of those they are dealing with. This makes most law firms low-trust environments.”

With regard to detachment, he says that “lawyers tend to prefer role-to-role interactions with people, inside and outside the firm, rather than eagerly seeking out person-to-person connections.”

These comments resonated with me because of my own experience when I transitioned from the practice of law to the field and practice of organization development. I found that I had to re-train myself from an intense focus on the facts to a more relaxed focus on relationships in my dealings with clients and co-workers. This elevated the importance of trust in relationships and placed a far greater emphasis on my interpersonal competencies.

More recently, I have become familiar with the ILN, the International Lawyers Network. My experience in learning about the ILN leads me to a different set of conclusions as to the environment created in the ILN from that described by Mr. Maister in law firms.

The Issues

The ILN as a network of law firms and law firm members places a high emphasis on trust and interpersonal connections.

The question then becomes what has the ILN done to create this totally different environment and the different attitudes and behaviors required? Can any of this be imported back into the respective law firms? What would need to be in place in law firms to motivate lawyers to act differently? Can something be learned from the fact that ILN members seem to be able to exist in both the law firm and the ILN world simultaneously?

In our next post, we will look at how the ILN organization and the way it operates creates a successful model.