Accounting firms have long been ahead of law firms in innovative management strategies for personal service firms– and as law firms head toward numbering thousands instead of hundreds of lawyers, there is much we can learn from how accounting firms manage people.

At a two-day ARK Group conference in December on Women in Professional Service Firms, Sandra Bushby, KPMG’s national director of Women’s Initiatives and other Workplace Solutions, recounted how KPMG uses workstyle assessments, particularly the "color-coded" Birkman Method, to put together successful client and project teams.  The firm-wide assessments were undertaken primarily as a risk management strategy– to build teams that have the varied talents to insure that everything from technical details to interpersonal skills to long-term visionary considerations are fully dealt with.  But by balancing teams with accountants with red, green, yellow and blue workstyles, KPMG is finding that it is also achieving an unexpected bonus:solving the diversity puzzle– creating culturally, gender and racially diverse teams.

Law firms, whether big or small, have a world of insight available to them from the use of assessments, which they often do not take advantage of.  Lawyers will contend that law is too "technical" or "expert’ a service for personal or work styles to have any impact on success.  Yet accounting is no less technical, and accounting firms have had to become expert in drilling down to the most effective risk management tools available– which style assessments unquestionably are.  To have the additional bonus of effectively producing diverse teams without resorting to "affirmative action" add-ons is ground-breaking– a one-assessment-for-all-purposes bonanza.