By training and experience, most lawyers tend to be risk-adverse. This can sometimes make change difficult, especially when the changes are a little threatening to those in power, or when they challenge long-held paradigms about how things should be done. 

Any improvement in a law firm necessarily alters existing relationships between people, work patterns, attitudes, and perceptions. The inherent tension that exists between the status quo and new ways of doing things creates a sense of imbalance or instability that can have many of the characteristics of "chaos."

"Chaos" can be productive.

A "chaos dynamic" does not have to be a negative thing. The term simply refers to a natural mental state in which people are searching for new perspectives. As they learn together, make choices, and take actions in this dynamic, people alternate between conflict and consensus. This is a natural part of the development of any group, whether a practice group, a management board, or the entire partnership of a law firm.

A "chaos dynamic" does not mean "without control or boundaries."

When the "chaos dynamic" is most productive, several things happen:

The leaders of the firm, through their actions, quite necessarily still provides clear lines of authority.
Leaders stay engaged in the change process and continue to manages the work environment. They do not take things personally. Leaders continue to establish boundaries of accepted behavior and performance. This stability makes it possible for real learning and improvements to occur in a safe environment.

no easy change management solutions for leaders

In time of change, the leaders of the firm do not seek unilateral control of all issues with equal force. If the leaders expect continued "by the book" compliance with the firm's policies and procedures and use their authority to enforce dependence and conformity, other people in the firm usually suspend their critical thinking and creative energies. When the controls or boundaries are too tight, individuals and groups often become submissive or rebellious. Both of these dynamics work against the best intentions of a quality improvement effort.

There is no universal "best practice" for the use of power and authority during change. Leaders in a quality environment will need to use their best judgment, based on many factors including their own experience, the capabilities and maturity of the lawyers involved in a quality team, the desired results, and the culture of the firm.

boundaries and balance


niagara falls-national film library of canadaSometimes it may be best to allow "conflict" to occur until consensus can be reached in a group – on its own. Sometimes a leader may want to play a more direct role, influencing outcomes and giving suggestions. Whether it is by establishing respectful "rules" for disagreeing with each other, giving direction, or providing alternative ideas, a leader is able to create boundaries in which the team members can operate more effectively .

Without any "controls," an environment would not be stable enough to learn and implement ideas. On the other hand, if firm leaders try too hard to control the outcomes of all improvement issues or situations, they risk undermining the very skills and behaviors that team members need to acquire to achieve success.

It's a delicate balance – one that requires lots of communication and active listening – for both team members and firm leaders.