Collaboration at work
Teams from Firm A and Firm B arrive at the office of in-house counsel to pitch their services. When the team from Firm A presents, presenters compliment each other as they speak. When the team from Firm B presents, team members look at their phones while others from their team are speaking. Which firm do you think in-house counsel will choose?
“The competitive advantage of teamwork starts before the work comes in the door,” says Jennifer Romig, law professor at Emory University Law School. “An effective team should be able to pitch in a tailored, cohesive way actually showing how they work together as a team, rather than just saying it.”
Collaboration and teamwork are more than just buzzwords. It’s good business. According to research from Heidi Gardner, a distinguished fellow at the Center on the Legal Profession and faculty chair of the Accelerated Leadership Program at Harvard Law School, lawyers from multiple practice groups collaborating to serve one client earned 12 per cent higher hourly rates than lawyers selling discrete services. She suggests identifying lawyers with expertise that might be beneficial to your clients and finding a project to work on together.
“It starts with the client,” says Gardner. “Even the most self-interested lawyers want to do great work for their client. One GC from Latin America recently told me that he expects his outside counsel to be able to anticipate and address the questions on the mind of the business person. It’s not enough to serve up a narrow legal answer or to focus on winning arguments.
Putting the pieces together
Building a great team requires more than getting the “best” lawyers. Here’s what you need.
Team members assemble!
Identify lawyers that are working in the same sector or industry and form groups. “Jointly develop thought leadership, for example about how A.I. will affect your clients’ industry,” says Heidi Gardner, a distinguished fellow at the Center on the Legal Profession and faculty chair of the Accelerated Leadership Program at Harvard Law School. “It isn’t immediately billable but it’s a way to learn about one another’s area of expertise.”
Lead by example
Yes, you’ve heard this before but it’s true, especially at the partnership level. “Ideally, working in teams means the seniors are modeling excellence for the juniors without formal prompts or non-billable time spent on training,” says Jennifer Romig, law professor at Emory University Law School.
Don’t forget to say thank you
Showing others your appreciation really contributes to team building. “When a senior attorney throws a junior under the bus, it’s unforgettable and toxic to teamwork,” says Romig. “Bad teamwork causes stress, working in silos, and attrition. Everybody appreciates being thanked and given credit, so creating a culture where teamwork is acknowledged can set a good tone.”
What’s driving collaboration?
The last few decades have seen the legal profession organize itself, in response to a need among lawyers to differentiate themselves, around ever-narrowing and segmented areas of expertise.
The specializing trend is also in response to a more and more challenging environment for clients forced to grapple with an increasingly complex regulatory environment.
In a more complex and specialized world, collaboration becomes all the more necessary. Lawyers must prove not only their worth as technical experts in their specific field, but as professionals who can collaborate with others throughout their own firm, in the legal departments they serve, and with other professionals who can help them design more effective legal solutions.