law department management

On February 12, 2008 Muir is scheduled to discuss with students at Northwestern University’s Business Institutions Program how to improve decision-making.  Based in large part on the information contained in "Promoting an Effective Board or Management Group," the discussion will explore, among other subjects, optimal personality traits for good decision-making and how to avoid extreme decisions.

"We evaluate ‘courage’ as a behavioral characteristic of our lawyers, and we link this evaluation to compensation," says John P. Donahue, Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of Rhodia Inc., in the July 2007 issue of InsideCounsel.   Rhodia has "embraced professional objectivity of its in-house lawyers as a core value" and Donahue wants to make sure that

One of the requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley rules for publicly traded companies is that they demonstrate that they are promoting an "ethical culture" in the workplace.  What does that mean?

"The Manager’s Book of Decencies:  How Small Gestures Build Great Companies" by Steve Harrison, chairman of Woodcliff Lake, N.J.-based Lee Hecht Harrison, the employee outplacement

Behavioral science is not often invoked in the halls of law departments, but maybe it should be.  Two recent articles highlight the importance to a GC’s success of understanding why people think and act as they do.

General counsel are in the position of having to reconcile two jobs: being both a business partner in the management of the

An article by Ronda Muir entitled “The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Law Firm Partners” appears in the July/August 2007 issue of the ABA Law Practice Management Section’s Law Practice Magazine. 

Among the attributes that emotionally intelligent partners bring are better judgment, higher productivity, enhanced business development skills and better client relationship management.  Most importantly,

Oddly enough, where it is most needed, Boards and other management groups may be the last frontier for achieving enhanced performance management. 

Historically, the perceived advantages of relying on a managing group, instead of one individual, include access to the group’s collective wisdom –"several heads are better than one"–as well as the ability to spread an increasing management workload over a number of people. 

A recent Center for Creative Leadership study identified an additional advantage. Effective management these days requires the resources of several people, rather than the lone hero, in order to meet the global challenges of collaboratively connecting across boundaries of all kinds—geography, language, culture and expertise.

Avoiding "Extreme" Group Decision-Making

Yet there is a well-documented propensity for groups to drift toward "extreme" decisions, that is, a committee often makes a decision that none of the individual members of the committee, acting alone, would make. These group decisions can be extreme by being either extremely risky or extremely conservative, and you see lone Directors routinely disavowing their cohorts’ actions after the fact. There seem to be a number of reasons for this tendency:          

Diffusion of Responsibility. An individual’s part in a group’s decision evidently weighs less heavily on him/her than an individual decision would, the implication being that not as thorough an evaluation of the issues is made when the decision is attributed to the group.

Ignoring the Lone Voice. Often groups do not properly take into account the most relevant expertise in the room.   Most small groups tend to make decisions based on the information all members share about a topic, overlooking important facts that one or several people bring. Although management committees are usually looking for creative, out-of-the-box strategies, a solitary opinion is often taken lightly or ignored in the flow of debate within the group.

Social Pressure. The more bonded the group, the more committed they are likely to be to reaching a decision, particularly one that pleases most of the members, even if a decision should be delayed or a less pleasing one would in fact be best. 

Competition. When committee members agree on the parameters of an issue, individuals may try to one-up each other by suggesting more and more extreme solutions, then promoting their solution as the best.

Stress. Groups under pressure act very much like individuals under stress, only more so. They often procrastinate, calling for further information, or become committed to bad decisions primarily to protect themselves and each other against criticism. This effect may account for the popular notion that committees tend to "split the baby," resulting in a less controversial solution that does not in fact work very well.

Seeing What Others Say

The impact of psychological factors on group decision making may go even further, to actually alter each person’s perceptions. A study using advanced brain-scanning technology shows that, in effect, group members often in fact see what the group tells them they see. In an exercise involving mentally rotating images of three-dimensional objects to determine if the objects were the same or different, subjects were assured of an incorrect conclusion by confederates and then agreed with those wrong answers 41% of the time. The brain activity of those who went along with the group was markedly different from those who took independent positions. When subjects concurred with wrong answers, activity increased in the area of the brain devoted to spatial awareness, meaning that their actual perceptions were being influenced. Those who made independent judgments showed activity in the region of the brain associated with conflict management, signifying an emotional toll for going against the group’s perception.

Based on the results of this study, one of the potential major advantages of a group decision—"several heads are better than one"—can disappear if the group successfully, even if unintentionally, co-opts individual insights. The most problematic aspect of these results is that not only does the group lose the "lone voices," but also the lone voices lose their very awareness of their differing perspectives. The change in their perception makes them incapable of raising their idiosyncratic flags.

Continue Reading Promoting an Effective Board or Management Group

In connection with the 129th annual International Tradmark Association meeting in Chicago, Ronda Muir, Senior Consultant, presented a program on Wednesday, May 2, at Robin Rolfe Resource’s Women’s Power Breakfast for seventy senior corporate and law firm women in intellectual property.   Her presentation focused on what makes lawyers, and women lawyers, different from other professions and how to use those differences

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

Women have suddenly become scarce among the Supreme Court Justices’ clerks, the New York Times reported August 30, 2006. While 50% of law school graduates in 2005 were women, only 7 of the 37 Supreme Court law clerkships are women, the first time since 1994 that the number has been in the single digits. Justices Breyer, Ginsburg

The last few months have seen five new studies relating to diversity and the practice of law:

1.  A new study by the ABA’s Commission on Women in the Professions entitled “Visible Invisibility: Women of Color in Law Firms” found that few women of color are offered equal opportunity and most choose to leave their firms rather