Firm Culture

Building a Team of Partners and Losers

We live in a hierarchical world. In a law firm, the levels are pretty clear. From top to bottom it goes something like this: Managing Partner, Other Partners (ranked in order of billings and client originating credits), Senior Associates, Professional Managers, Junior Associates, Law Clerks, Legal Assistants, Clerical Staff, Articling Students, and Cleaners.

Everyone in a law firm has a pretty good notion about what the hierarchy is, although Articling Students have sometimes found out to their shock and horror that they do in fact rank under the Law Clerks, Legal Assistants, and Clerical Staff.

In a well-run law firm (assuming that there is in fact such a thing), the Partners recognize the value of having all of their personnel feel like they are a respected part of the team. Sometimes they even spend money to accomplish this goal on things such as retreats, social events, gifts, and bonuses.

And then they do the stupid stuff such as finding excuses to emphasize to people where they rank in the organization.  Things like listing the lawyers on the website under two separate headings such as “Partners” and “Losers.”

When introducing their colleagues to a client, they may say, “I would like to introduce you to my Partner Joan and to my Associate Carl,” but you can be sure that what their colleagues hear is “I would like to introduce you to my talented, successful, partner Joan, and to my Associate Carl who has been here forever but who has never been quite good enough to become a Partner but is tagging along to take notes.”

Perhaps they give bigger offices to the Senior Partners than to the Junior Partners or Associates.  Or assign the staff based on the seniority of the lawyer rather than the needs of the lawyer’s clients.  Or maybe the Law Clerks know that the work of people higher on the food chain is to be done before the work required by the people at the bottom, regardless of urgency. Or maybe the people who dwell on the mountain get their computers fixed faster than the valley people.

All of this is fine and dandy. But if the firm is going to be managed this way, couldn’t it save a bit of cash on those team-building events?

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