Monday, October 22, 2007

Social Space and Social Networks inside the Law Firm

Bruce McEwen posted a story on the value of creating more interaction among the lawyers in a law firm: Social Networks and Partners' Desks. Bruce looks to the old concept of partners sharing a desk and the proliferation of shared space at technology firms.

I looked back to one of my old posts on Microsoft using workspace design to increase collaboration. One of my goals of knowledge management is to increase the sharing of knowledge and experience. I believe attorneys like talking with each other and value a colleague's view on a problem.

Too many law firms have partners holed up in corner offices, cut off from the flow of people and interactions happening outside their door. Even worse are the law firms with attorneys working behind closed doors for most of the day. Sure we attorneys need some quiet time to review documents. But rarely does that mean I should spend the whole day holed up in my office.

One drawback to electronic legal research is that the law firm's library is no longer a place you are likely to run into a colleague. If you do, they are probably seeking a quiet place to be left alone.

What can be done?

Pool Secretaries. Instead of the 1 to 2, 1 to 3 (or greater) assignment have two secretaries servicing six attorneys. You get the workload spread out with the secretaries collaborating and sharing information. You get double the number of attorneys moving into the same space to pick up work, drop off work and get their mail. To do this you would need to standardize some procedures and workflow, such as time-keeping.

Better Coffee Stations. Most attorneys live on coffee. Starbucks seems to attract people getting work done at their tables. Put a table in the kitchen and make it a better place to mingle and run into each other.

Announce Results. Most law firms gather lots of information when new matters are opened, but do little at the end of the matter or after a significant action. Law firms should encourage attorneys notifying others in their practice group that something happened. Post that information in one of those better coffee stations.

Information Kiosks. Instead of putting all the legal research books in the library, use some interior wall space to spread periodicals, lighter reading and commonly used materials along interior walls. Put it out in the open for people to run into and then to run into each other. You can make space for someone to walk by and ask "what are you reading?" I walked through the real estate section of our library and was amazed to see some of the material there. I just don't get to the library that often.

Walk around your law firm and see what could be used to get people to run into each other and communicate.


  1. These are good suggestions, particularly the information kiosks. We put local business, legal, and just general newspapers and magazines in a corner by our library and it has become a sort of regular meeting place for attorneys.

    I also think that firms need to make an effort to better enable online collaboration with tools that go beyond email.

  2. It is great to see that these information kiosks work to get lawyers out of their offices. Think how much more use you get form them by strategically placing them around the firm.

    Online collaboration is just a given. They may already be using them outside the firewall. I am.


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