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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In the first post, we discussed how the characteristics that may make an attorney an effective advocate for his or her clients can often lead to a less successful law firm environment. Today, we will focus on how the ILN handles things differently in their Network.

ILN Environment

Purpose

The purpose of the ILN drives its actions – to create a trusted group of partners for lawyers who are looking to do business in other jurisdictions. Trust is at the core of the ILN.

In the ILN, professional and personal relationships fuel the network. Lindsay Griffiths, the ILN Director of Network Development, has said, “These strong relationships that members form gets them to trust each other to handle their clients – to call others up and ask what do you think about this.” This is the key value that the ILN provides.

Recruitment

The recruitment process builds upon trust where it already exists and painstakingly develops trust where it has not yet been established. Recruitment focuses on structured processes and building strong relationship norms to accomplish this.

The recruitment (or inclusion) process for new members involves a number of steps for vetting by already trusted individuals, i.e. the ILN board, leadership and ILN members. Reliance on these individuals and the established process helps to foster trust. The process in turn provides structure within which the personal dynamics of trust can grow.

The recruitment process builds trust by focusing on reducing competition among member firms. The practice is to generally have one member firm from one commercial jurisdiction so as not to create conflict based on competition. Both the board and members consider these issues of competition. One criteria is the level of comfort of existing members in relevant jurisdictions or subject matter areas.

The recruitment process relies on recommendations from member firms who have an existing relationship of trust with the potential new member. If such a relationship does not exist, the process involves input from the board and visits to the firm to assess the fit with the ILN. Ultimately, the board issues its recommendation which then goes to member firms in that region asking whether anyone has a major objection.

The assessment of fit supports the development of trust. When ILN representatives visit a prospective firm, the firm is assessed in terms of its competence and its relationships with existing clients. The nature of their business and their commitment to join the ILN network is assessed.

According to Lindsay Griffiths, visits to the firm involve “the feeling we get about them.” Ms. Griffiths continues, the ILN is “based on relationships. Conferences feel like a family reunion. Are prospective members motivated to fit in? Do they get around and talk to a lot of people or just keep to themselves?” The later continues to be assessed during attendance at the next regional meeting to which potential new members are invited.

The recruiting and vetting process helps to build common standards, which in turn furthers the development of trust.

Convening Members and Interactions

It is with regard to building the family reunion environment that we get to the other key aspect of ILN which is its focus on building interactions and relationships. These important relationships among members are cultivated in a variety of ways.

One way of doing this is through convening the membership using different formats. Regular participation in meetings, conferences and other activities is encouraged. There is an annual meeting for the full group of ILN members in May or June and regional meetings covering the Asian-Pacific, European and American regions. Lawyers are also pulled together for webinars and conference calls. There are virtual meetings for five or six firms at a time and conference calls for specialty groups.

Personal connection and interactions are built by such acts as introducing new members at cocktail receptions and making members more visible to each other by re-posting member articles on the ILN website, Facebook or Twitter. In addition, the ILN connects members who are attending legal conferences or events. Limiting business sessions to a half day provides lawyers with time to talk during afternoon tours and events and to build bonds and relationships. ILN also supports the value of conversation during meals.

The ILN is increasingly using Linked-In to put members in interaction with each other. The ILN supports Linked-In use by members as a means of networking with attorneys they see regularly at conferences and as a means of expanding their pool of contacts by networking with those who do not attend. Attorneys can use the private ILN Linked-In group to collaborate with others and to keep up to date with new members from other firms and from the ILN.

Facilitation and Norm Building

The role of the ILN Executive Director and of Director of Network Development is especially important in designing the various convening activities and in facilitating the connections among members. The ILN leadership uses the recruitment process to build relationships among firm representatives. Relationships are furthered by fostering visibility among members. The ILN leadership invites people at meetings and in the network in general to be more involved with one another. The ILN leadership acts to build relationship-focused norms among the members. One important group norm is that everyone is friendly and welcoming. At meetings people are not cliquey. There are no long presentations with a lot of slides and words detailing practice areas unless there is an immediate need. The group is a fun group. One attorney said of these meetings, “I didn’t get what you meant by it until I got to the welcoming session. Everyone liked to talk and each enjoyed each other’s company. I could really see it in the room.”

Governance

The ILN is governed by a Board of Directors which includes an attorney from the founding member and the Executive Director, Alan Griffiths. Lindsay Griffiths as Director of Network Development also plays a prominent role. The two operational roles help to facilitate decisions and interactions among members. The leadership of the ILN provides a central governance role. At the same time that Alan and Lindsay make the day to day decisions, there is an attempt at consensus among Alan, Lindsay, the Chairman of the Board and the other members of the Board. Mr. Maister, in his article, points out that in law firms the focus on partner individuality and the reluctance to cede power to group decisions (both a consequence of low trust) limit the managerial effectiveness of law firms. The strong and focused leadership of the ILN avoids this significant pitfall.

So what might this mean for law firms? We will cover this in our third and final post.