Dealing With Partners - Who Do NOT Want to Play on an Industry Team.
I received the following question from a firm leader:
“When one attempts to organize their firm into a few chosen Industry Teams, how do you handle partners who do not want to work in industry teams or feel neglected because their personal practice doesn’t seem to fit?”
The merit of having an industry focus is that it forces firms to concentrate attention on a few selected industries – preferably those in which you have a position of recognized strength. This means that lawyers in other practices can feel left out. How you deal with those partners may determine the success of your commitment to industries.
The initial reaction from any partner who doesn’t feel included is often to withdraw from communication, boycott selective meetings, or even delay performing certain activities. They are attempting to gain credibility for their position by demanding management’s attention. As crass as it may sound, your best approach is to treat them as you would a pouting child. Continue to invite them to participate in firm activities, but don’t offer sympathy. It is important to CONSTANTLY communicate and DEMONSTRATE how the success of any industry group will benefit everyone – in terms of additional referral work and overall profitability.
At some point you can probably expect some partners to attack the basic logic of focusing on industries. Any assumptions made in the creation of your reorganization, any statistics or financial information may all be challenged. In the extreme, the credibility of those on your Management or Executive Committee may be brought into question. Arguing toe-to-toe rarely works. Your best approach is to express confidence and offer partners the opportunity to review any of the factual information used.
> It is also powerful to share real commentary (questionnaire or video interview feedback) from your firm’s ACTUAL clients, citing the importance of their lawyers having an industry focus.
In some extreme circumstances, practice groups aggrieved by the focus on industry teams may attempt to become obstructive by failing to cooperate and share information, disregarding basic procedures and scheduling conflicting meetings, events and activities. Fortunately, such obstructionism is so extreme that it does not occur very often. When it does, it is usually short-lived. This is because it is so obviously counterproductive for the firm that it fails to gain attention or sympathy for the position of those involved.
In the best of all circumstances, it won’t take long before visible client-sharing occurs between the industry team receiving strategic attention and any practice that is not. This is, of course, what your reorganization was envisioned to create.
In fairness, I should note that there are firms in which none of these disruptive behaviors occur and everyone realizes that driving the firm to focus on client industries is in everyone’s best interests.