“People just like us”

“People just like us”

A managing partner of a reputable and reasonably successful midsize law firm recently told me, "We look for partners who are just like us, who we know will fit in."

This is not the first time that my colleagues and I have heard about this "unwritten trump card," as a senior partner in another firm describe it.  "If we have two candidates who are roughly equal, we will usually give the nod to the lawyer who has the better chemistry with us," a partner from yet another law firm once told me.

Especially in the traditional context of a law firm partnership, it is natural to want partners with whom one feels comfortable, with common backgrounds and points of view to one's own.  We are more likely to trust and feel confident about people who are more like ourselves.

Is is perfectly natural.

It is also potentially lethal to any business, but especially law firms.

Our firm's experience working closely with law firm partnerships and practice groups demonstrates that a group of professionals is better able to make hard decisions, manage change, and get the best results from innovations if it has people with diverse backgrounds, experiences, personalities, and points of view.

Such groups are usually better able to:

  1. See through unproductive business paradigms that most law firms continue to accept blindly as immutable truths.
  2. Apply a lively intellectual rigor and critical thinking to proposed innovations and, as a result, usually obtain a better return on their investment in them.
  3. Spot new opportunities before their competitors notice them and build competitive advantages that will be difficult for competitors to overcome.

By contrast, partnerships that are not diverse, where everyone is "just like us," are usually more likely to:

  1. Cling to old business assumptions, habits, and "values," even then they clearly do not produce desired results.
  2. Dismiss fundamental changes in the legal market as "fads."
  3. Worry that recruiting and promoting women and ethnic minorities might "compromise our standards."
  4. Fail to implement new strategies or management changes, even when the partners agree that they are needed.
  5. Avoid differences of opinion as being "damaging to our partnership culture."
  6. Consider honest questions or doubts to be disloyal to the firm.

To read more, visit the Walker Clark Worldview Blog.