TOOLS AND SPACES TO BUILD COLLABORATION
Collaboration is at the core of a law firm’s success.
Partners share firm governance, where timely collective decision making is critical. Attorneys create ad hoc teams to drive case strategies, leverage expertise, and balance workloads. Practice groups learn together, using past experience to drive future success. Providing technologies that are easy to use, and creating environments where comfort encourages high performance, are keys to productive collaboration.
Governance Tools: Success Factors
Good eye contact, clear voice quality, and tools to create shared mental models support the shared decision process. When partners are separated by distance, high quality audio, video, and web conference systems can accelerate decision making. Yet good technology alone doesn’t assure great communication. Infrastructure elements like table shape, room size, lighting, acoustics, and equipment placement all work together, to create the most comfortable, productive, and private governance environments.
Places for larger meetings pose a different set of challenges. Professional services firms show a growing preference for holding internal gatherings in their own workplaces, rather than a hotel or offsite conference center. The benefits are two-fold: payback on capital investments can be as short as one year; and an environment purpose-built to reinforce the firm’s culture is far more effective in promoting a sense of community than an anonymous meeting room. Since large gatherings may be infrequent, creating contiguous spaces which easily combine is a practical approach. Both divisible rooms with movable walls and flexible public areas are good solutions.
Practice Tools: Success Factors
Efficient work environments are critical to every legal discipline, and each has its own particular needs. Some firms are able to create dedicated collaboration spaces for drafting documents, developing case strategies, practicing arguments, taking depositions, preparing witnesses, and the myriad other daily tasks involved in legal practice. When dedicated rooms are not feasible, it pays to take extra care in considering each use before finalizing the space design and technology selections. Creating use cases for each application is a particularly effective way to assure each group has the tools they need to do their best work.
Just as important, practitioners need to feel at home with their technology tools. Advances in personal mobile devices have created a much higher comfort level with user interfaces, which are now available on devices like the Apple iPad. Giving partners the opportunity to participate in user interface design has proven immensely valuable in rapid technology acceptance and creative user-led applications. Creating mock ups and technology showcases to draw feedback from critical users is a small investment in time and money, for a large reward in ownership of the technologies delivered.
Learning Tools: Success Factors
Continuous learning is both a mandatory requirement, and the engine that drives firm excellence. The payback from sharing internal expertise is even more valuable when Clients or summer associates are included. The best learning environments emphasize the principles of adult learning by creating opportunities for verbal and kinesthetic interaction, like Socratic dialogue, white-boarding, and role-play. Rooms with a central focus are particularly effective, and benefit from furniture which moves easily and technology-enabled “corners” for quick break out groups. While a dedicated space for mock trials is sometimes desirable, more often a flexible space is designed to support practice arguments and other trial preparations.
Distance learning poses both opportunities and challenges to effective learning programs. It’s tempting to migrate in-person training to e-learning platforms, in the interests of cost savings or documenting mandatory continuing education. Though sometimes appropriate, and occasionally well-produced and interesting, this approach seldom creates the lasting impact of a personalized, interactive program. On the other hand, real-time learning delivered with video technology can be exceptional when it brings together practice communities from around the globe; offers the opportunity to interact with a well-respected expert; or delivers much-needed, timely coaching. Perhaps the greatest value of technology in the learning environment is for knowledge capture. Combined with a learning management system, the firm’s wisdom can stand ready to be shared, where and when it’s needed.