Law Practice Management

How ‘Pointless Interaction’ Helped Law Firm Communication

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A law firm that developed a training program for 15 potential partners got a strong message from the participants: They needed to meet regularly to create a collaborative “successor generation.”

Legal consultants from Altman Weil led the group, learning during the first workshop that two-thirds of the lawyers had never met each other, consultant Douglas Richardson writes in an Altman Weil (PDF) article.

As the lawyers got to know each other, they warmed to each other, floated ideas and formed collaborative alliances, Richardson writes. In the program’s second year, he says, it included “plenty of time for ‘pointless’ interaction: opportunity to loosen up, chew the fat, and kick back socially, without an agenda, project, policy, process or decision-point to address.”

Richardson says that face-to-face communication is getting more difficult in an age where communication is often by e-mail, and large firms are so large that lawyers can’t connect.

Surveys of young lawyers’ attitudes show the fallout: They report feeling “isolated, overspecialized and dehumanized,” he says. “They grow ever more cynical and slow to trust, as is reflected in many firms’ retention problems. So any initiative that treats them like individuals and communicates with them like humans will enhance morale and improve retention.”

Richardson suggests some solutions, while acknowledging they are expensive: more firm dinners, more partner meetings that include time for recreation and informal interaction, more mentoring and coaching, more videoconferencing, and more trips to outlying offices.

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