♫ Boy, the way Glen Miller played.
Songs that made the Hit Parade.
Guys like us, we had it made.
Those were the days!…♫
One of the big changes in the legal profession has been the switch to the lawyer as collaborator: with their colleagues, with their staff and not the least, with their clients. Part of this is due to the work of Thomas Friedman and his “The World is Flat” philosophy. Part of it is due to the fact that the world has changed and clients have insisted on becoming equals with their advisors. Not only do clients want to be kept advised on what is happening with their cases, they want to be involved with the details of their cases – discussing strategy, options and not the least, potential cost-impacts.
Collaboration places new demands on lawyers. In my view, this goes beyond just seeking instructions – which is the most basic level of collaboration. When you seek instructions, you and the client are speaking from each person’s separate goals and values…in order to reach a common path of how to proceed. But there are much more rewarding, and deeper, ways to collaborate. In a true collaborative environment, there is a deep, continued and shared dialogue over proposed outcomes, options and impacts. In such an environment, each party seeks to build and enhance meaningful and beneficial long-term relationships. Each party has a commitment to common and shared goals that strive to go beyond the current engagement. There is also shared leadership, a sense of community, a commitment of resources and an understanding of each party’s overarching goals. There are shared responsibilities and the development of an environment of underlying mutual understanding and trust. Needless to say, all parties have to view collaboration as being to their mutual benefit. Since lawyers have not been traditionally viewed as being high on the trustworthy scale compared to other professions (rightly or not), I believe we have much to gain by adopting a collaborative perspective.
Important characteristics of a positive collaborative environment would include having frequent and open communication, preferably within a workspace that encourages and facilitates this process.
Collaboration is facilitated by structure: form follows function. The new online collaborative environments are receiving positive attention as they support the structure of collaboration. Visit any of these online spaces and you can see contact information, timelines, communications, documents, images, graphics and videos. Documents can be marked up, changed and commented on by all parties. Notes can be left and responded to. Parties are participating in a continuing multi-dimensional dialogue that is facilitated by the collaborative spaces. These spaces go far beyond what was possible using phone calls, emails and correspondence.
For one, they allow communication to take place among team members, either individually, in subgroups or among the whole. The stream of communication is gathered in one place, preserving the sense that the work is a group project. Secondly, they enhance the sense of team by allowing both synchronous and asynchronous communications. Thirdly, knowledge transfer and sharing of information are two characteristics of these spaces. Examples of such knowledge sharing in collaborative spaces are Wikipedia and group blogs such as www.slaw.ca. They also encourage new ways of solving problems by combining project management with crowd-sourcing and social media attributes.
Rather than looking back wistfully and longing for the ways and the days of the past, I believe we can – and should – embrace these new spaces to craft better relationships with our clients. One day we too will look back at these emerging times and say: guys and gals like us, we had it made – those were the days!
This article originally appeared in the Canadian Bar Association, British Columbia branch’s publication BarTalk.This entry was posted on Monday, January 21st, 2013 at 4:00 am and is filed under Adding Value, Business Development, Change Management, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Technology, Tips, Trends. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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