Do lawyers collaborate the same way and as much as other professionals? 

In thinking about this question, first consider 3 recent articles

  • Smashing The Clock, the Business Week Dec 11th cover story, explains how Best Buy is moving away from a culture of office “face time” to work anywhere, anytime, as long as the job gets done.
  • Designed For Success in the same BW issue presents awards to several buildings for design excellence; many awards cite new design elements that foster collaboration.
  • Wikis Are Alive and Kicking in the Enterprise in eWeek (11/20/06) reports on the increasing traction of wikis in corporate America, especially at Motorola.

Now consider my January 2003 article, The Future Law Office: Going Virtual (Law Practice Management) which argued that firms should support lawyers working outside traditional downtown offices. Anecdotally, it seems law firms still expect lawyers to show up in the office if they are not on business travel. If that’s because collaboration is so important, why don’t we see more evidence of work place flexibility, radical office re-design, or adoption of new collaborative tools as suggested by the articles above?

Instead we have limited law office design change, as described in Office Spots to Meet and Mingle, Legal Times (12/4/06). My take on this article is that the law office design changes described are more about amenities, socializing, and looking cool than about fostering collaboration.

So, a question emerges: do lawyers collaborate less than other professionals? I’m not sure how to measure “amount of collaboration.” And maybe it is not so much about “amount” as “type.” Perhaps lawyers collaborate in ways that differ from other professionals. Legal work may more readily sub-divide into discrete tasks with fewer interactions required than in other businesses. Or perhaps the tasks are linearly sequential, meaning more “pass the baton” than real-time collaboration.

Am I wrong or is this just simply explained by the usual – law firms are slow to change? Let me know what you think – please comment or e-mail me: ron at prismlegal dot com or here.