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Every year, management consulting firm Altman Weil conducts a Law Firms in Transition survey. Firm leaders are asked what they have done to lead change in their law firms. According to the survey, one of the most effective tactics was to create a culture of collaboration at all levels in the firm.

The Data

The 2019 survey found that 78% of firms have actively moved to create a more collaborative culture within their firms, and that most of those who did say that more collaboration has resulted in improved firm performance.

The survey also revealed that 84% of responding firms “have chronically underperforming lawyers.” 56% percent, including 74% of large firms, say that overcapacity is hindering overall profitability. Other studies have shown that when underperforming lawyers are permitted to stay at the firm, it harms morale and can lead to reduced productivity and effectiveness of the other lawyers within the firm. Underperforming lawyers hurt referrals and internal cross-selling efforts – other lawyers in the firm simply will not cross-sell or refer business to underperforming lawyers for fear that it will hurt the referring lawyer’s relationship with the client or their profitability.

71% of firms responding to the Altman Weil survey have taken some action to hold their lawyers accountable for achieving defined measures of performance, and 67% have reduced the number of underperforming lawyers in the firm.

Tips for Improving Collaboration

Based on the survey results, Altman Weil recommends that firms make a commitment to increasing collaboration. Eliminating underperforming lawyers and keeping the remaining lawyers accountable for achieving certain standards will increase collaboration by boosting confidence that work referred within the firm will be competently and appropriately handled.

But making such a commitment requires firms to go beyond giving lip service to collaboration. Firms must actively encourage collaboration by aligning their compensation systems to reward collaboration, rather than focusing solely on the amount an attorney bill when determining compensation.

In addition to encouraging collaborative business development through the firm’s compensation system, law firms wanting to improve a team-based approach to business development must support its lawyers in not just referring business to one another, but working together to pitch clients in teams at the outset to offer solutions to a client’s many different legal needs. Firms who want to encourage collaborative pitches should provide lawyers with a framework to follow.

To be successful, a collaborative business development team must have a clear understanding of how credit for any resulting work will be assigned, assign a team leader to help define roles and responsibilities, and ensure the team has a good understanding of the prospective client and their legal needs.

In a large firm with offices in multiple locations, it may not always be easy for attorneys to collaborate simply because they do not know many of the attorneys at the firm and their areas of expertise. Fortunately, technology is bridging that divide, and the new software available on the market, including is one excellent way to help the lawyers in your firm identify the right lawyers to refer clients to or to work with to pitch a new client.

Additional Resources

Are Large Law Firms in Danger of Losing Business?

Virtual Law Firms: Challenges and Opportunities Using Technology

Lawyers: How to Get More Referrals