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 our first two posts, we discussed some of the pitfalls that befall law firms today, as well as how the ILN network of law firms is managing its members to avoid these same pitfalls. Today, we will look at the ILN’s “secret sauce” and identify how this can be translated to firms, themselves.

Theory of Change

Underlying all of this is the “Theory of Change” of the ILN vis a vis that of the law firms that Maister spoke about. The ILN makes the assumption that trust and relationships will make the network and its members successful in meeting the needs of its members’ clients. The ILN bases its actions on these assumptions. The law firms of 2006 that Maister spoke about believed that skepticism and detachment would make lawyers successful in the courtroom, boardroom and in performing the business of the law firm.

 

The “secret sauce” that makes the ILN unique and drives it’s success are the relationships. Lindsay Griffiths said, “You want to be able to trust the people you work with. The ILN goes beyond the professional. At meetings, we have people sharing pictures of their weddings, children. This binds people together. It keeps people here longer.” Lindsay continued, “Our Chairman said he ‘felt like a grandfather welcoming his children (the members) to the reunion with the new firms as the grandchildren.’People at meetings literally enjoy people like family members.”

As with many organizations, the quality of relationships and culture among the leadership and facilitating group has a strong influence on the rest of the organization. This kind of influence has been seen by the author to be similar among networks. The quality of the working relationship as well as the father and daughter relationship between Alan and Lindsay translates to this larger network atmosphere. Their working relationship may be a factor in infusing the ILN with a family reunion environment. Lindsay said, “We share so much of ourselves with the group, of our friendliness.”

Enhanced Interpersonal Competencies

When one looks at the sum total of the ILN experience, one finds that members have enhanced their interpersonal competencies. They have acted to build relationships based on trust, devoted time and effort to these relationships, nurtured these relationships, and utilized these relationships successfully to support the transaction of business. On the network level, the ILN has developed the competency to support the interpersonal competencies of its members.

Disseminating the ILN Culture/Experience

A key issue is to what extent the relationship-focused norms of the firm representatives attending ILN events becomes disseminated to the many members of ILN firms who are not regular ILN event attendees. Is there a tension between those who may be acculturated to ILN norms and those who may not be? Is there a cultural conflict? Are firm members in general impacted?

The vehicle that the ILN uses to minimize any potential tension or cultural conflict is what they call “Push Down.” These are the many activities that attempt to foster relationship-focused norms among firm members who are not representatives. Lindsay mentions this as “our biggest challenge.”

Among the Push-Down activities are:

  • Specialty groups which have meetings with other firm members.
  • Lunches when there is a national conference for member firm people. This will involve people not seen at the ILN’s own conferences. Members from firms participating in the event will attend.
  • Guides distributed as to how to make the most out of your ILN membership.
  • Suggestions and support to ILN members so that when they are visiting a city, they can drop in on member firms.
  • Surveys sent out to capture what members are attending various national conferences which then helps to put people in touch with one another.
  • Bi-annual newsletters.
  • Reliance on main contacts to also do Push Down. They report back to their firm after national conferences. They are provided with guides as to how to get others involved. They try to bring back to their firms the feeling of the ILN conferences.
  • Webinars.
  • The ILN blog.

In all of these activities, Lindsay and Alan try to provide the same feeling as in the ILN conferences. Lindsay’s friendliness has an impact.

Disseminating the ILN norms to other firm members is an objective of ILN. However, there is no larger objective in terms of impacting firm culture. Lindsay adds, “Our firm members know how to run their firm better than anyone.”

Conclusion

Can the approach of the ILN be imported back into the law firm world? It would seem that the traditional approach of skepticism and detachment will continue to have value as part of the implementation of a lawyers’ skills. However, in being successful in operating the law firm as a 21st century business to meet the needs of clients, the ILN approach of trust and connection is also an important path. Can the 21st century lawyer live in both of these mindsets? The experience of the ILN indicates that this is possible. The specific activities of the ILN provides a practical path for implementing this additional mindset.