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Is collaboration a given, or still an ambition?

A few months ago I was asked to deliver a talk on collaboration. One of the things that struck me as I was pondering my input, was why this was even a…

A few months ago I was asked to deliver a talk on collaboration. One of the things that struck me as I was pondering my input, was why this was even a topic that might be of interest, and I posed the question on the day, “Doesn’t everybody do this now?”.

The thought came from my experiences as a part of the evolution of Weightmans over the last fifteen years. Fifteen years ago, I moved from case handling to running various operational functions, starting with our IT offering. Fifteen years ago, there was a very clear division in the firm driven in part by how a lot of lawyers like to impose taxonomy on their world. The taxonomy is fairly simple: lawyers divide the world very neatly into two – "lawyers" and "everyone else" (with an assumption that if you were in the "everyone else" category the only possible reason that you would want to work for a law firm was the hope that you might eventually be able to join the "lawyer" category).

A lot of our lawyers (frankly, myself included at the time) failed to grasp that the firm would benefit from the experience of professionals who had skillsets that they did not possess, that there were people who could add value to the business who weren’t lawyers and who had career aspirations that didn’t, in fact, involve becoming a lawyer. I exaggerate for effect, but only a little…

Lawyers tend to have deep expertise in a narrow domain, but over the last fifteen years, the firm has learned to value the decades of experience in non-legal domains that our business services teams have.

Today, we have business issues and opportunities that require us to bring together multidisciplinary teams to work on together to provide a resolution or new approach. Our business services (i.e. "everyone else") departments now have lawyers within them (and not just on knowledge management and research), working alongside non-lawyer partners who head up these business services teams and departments.

At the same time, we have improved the way in which these teams collaborate with our clients to deliver real value from their perspective and regularly bring in expertise from our business services teams to help our clients with issues such as data security or reputation management. We collaborate with clients to understand what it is, in fact, their businesses need beyond simply traditional legal advice, and work with them to deliver the services they need – an all round commercial approach.

Much to my surprise, after my presentation a number of people came up to me and suggested that in their firms and in their experiences, this approach to collaboration is still quite unusual - which begs the question as to what in fact they are doing instead…

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