I recently watched all ten episodes of The Last Dance  on ESPN. While watching I wondered if the Chicago Bulls won all those championships because they were a great team or because the individual players, especially Michael Jordan, were great.

I don’t know. What do you think? Can you answer the same question about your law firm?

A young partner seeking to change law firms came to me. He said he hated being in an “eat what you kill” law firm where the partners are competing with each other. He asked if I knew of any collaborative law firms. I know of some, but I fear those firms may be the exception not the rule.

A few years ago I read an HBR Blog:Why a Great Individual is Better than a Good Team. This appeared a week after Bill Taylor posted Great People Are Overrated Parts 1 and 2 and the day before Turn Your Group into a True Team.

By the time I finished reading these HBR blog posts I wondered if a collaborative law firm is best, or whether a firm, like my old firm, that had some great individuals who rarely collaborated on anything is best? What do you think?

Team Working 5.jpgWhen I ran for the board of my old firm and made presentations to our lawyers, I included a quote by former IBM CEO Thomas Watson. He said:

I believe the real difference between success and failure in a corporation can very often be traced to the question of how well the organization brings out the great energies and talents of its people. What does it do to help these people find common cause with each other?

I think that quote helps answer the question. Law firms must hire and develop the most talented lawyers they can find. (Without talented lawyers who are well trained, all the teamwork in the world will not matter.) Then the firm must bring out the great energies of their lawyers and help them find a common cause with each other.

Think about the companies that really do this well. I immediately think about Apple, Zappos, Starbucks, Ritz Carlton. Those companies have great clarity on their company culture and hire the best talent they can find who clearly fit that company culture.

Having clarity in their culture and having gotten it right in the hiring process, it is easier to bring out great energies and talents and help their people find a common cause with each other.

In most law firms, new lawyers are hired based on their class rank, and more senior lawyers are hired based on their book of business. Law firm interviews are short and sweet. In many cases the lawyer interviewer spends more time talking about the firm than learning about the candidate.

Even law firms that get to know law students over a portion of a summer, do not spend enough time determining if the students have a burning desire to become an outstanding lawyer.

I find that for most law firms helping lawyers and staff find a common cause with each other is considered too “touchy-feely.” Law firms claim to have what they describe as “the firm culture,” but rarely do the lawyers even agree on what it is.  I think that is a shame, and frankly a big waste of money recruiting and training law students who will ultimately be gone in just a few years.

So what do you think? Can a law firm hire lawyers that are so talented that they are worth more than 100 average lawyers and still build a collaborative team? I believe it can only happen if the firm culture includes collaboration and the firm compensates its lawyers in part on their teamwork.

Does your firm do that?