Your first lawyer job will teach you a million things: How to perfect your brief-writing skills, how to appear relaxed around intimidating partners, and how long you can operate on just a few hours of sleep.
One skill a young lawyer may not realize the importance of until they’re firmly in the thick of things is how to collaborate with colleagues.
Why Teamwork is Important
For any business, teamwork improves productivity and promotes healthy employee relationships. For law firms, teamwork is essential for efficiency in a world where practicing law is becoming more complex. Lawyers at every level now have to work on marketing, master a more diverse group of skills including utilizing various technologies, and respond to ever more exacting client demands. No lawyer can do it on their own. It takes a team to efficiently use firm resources in the most profitable, successful way.
Lawyers must make a concerted effort in areas besides the daily grind of writing briefs and taking client meetings. They must be on the same page when it comes to branding and social media activity. And the lawyer who knows how to work not only with other lawyers but how to properly fold the expertise of legal staff into the team is ahead of the game. Firms that emphasize collaboration and harmony also tend to inspire more trust and loyalty in their clients. The modern firm must get away from the old model of every man for himself and embrace collaboration in order to remain competitive and thrive as a business.
Learning to Collaborate Will Make You a Better Lawyer
The competitive nature of law school doesn’t exactly foster a collaborative atmosphere, and that competitiveness continues at firms. In addition, as some types of law become more specialized, lawyers are known to stash themselves away in their offices alone for hours to pore over documents, fueling the stereotypes about their solitary natures. Learning to collaborate effectively, though, will not only help your firm, but also help your career in general.
Research shows that those who collaborate end up with bigger books of business than those who tend to stockpile the work and do everything themselves. This includes those rainmakers who generate huge amounts of business on their own. Consider this: Simply teaming up with your colleagues in other practice areas means they’ll be more likely to refer people to you in the future. It also means you’ll be working on more complex issues, giving you the opportunity to learn new things and become more experienced in different areas.
Obstacles to Collaboration
Of course, there are obstacles to fostering a collaborative workplace—we’re talking about competitive, ambitious, smart lawyers here. Obstacles tend to fall into three general categories:
- Lack of trust. Collaboration can’t work if lawyers aren’t confident in their colleagues’ abilities and work ethic.
- Lack of knowledge of the firm’s offerings. Lawyers need to know what practice groups their firm contains and which services they offer across the board—and surprisingly, they often don’t.
- Office politics and the hierarchical structure of most firms. It can be difficult to establish who should handle which tasks in an often-competitive environment that has long relied on strict status hierarchies.
Fortunately, these obstacles can be overcome—not quickly, and not easily. Addressing them directly and adjusting the way the work is approached is the first step. A patient, diligent lawyer who is truly open to teamwork, backed up by a firm that is serious about becoming more collaborative, is sure to see results in the form of positive feedback from clients and a thriving business.