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Tips to Successfully Manage Conflict within a Law Firm

Law firms are people businesses, so it is inevitable that conflict will arise from time to time.

In this article cpm21 Senior Associate Consultant Ian Hopkins examines some of the causes of conflict within law firms, why its important to deal with the conflict when it arises and provides tips for law firm leaders on how to resolve the conflict.

There are a myriad of reasons why conflict arises within law firms, certainly too many to cover in this article. Typically, it could be a personality clash within a team causing conflict; It may be that different workstyles are causing issues; it may be that fee earning teams are not working towards the same goal causing them unconsciously to compete against each other.

It is worth pointing out that not all conflict is necessarily bad – conflict can stimulate creativity for example. However, in my experience in most cases conflict has a negative impact on a firm’s performance and for this reason is something that law firm leaders need to address at an early stage.

It is important for law firm leaders to appreciate that conflict is more than just a disagreement between two individuals. If unchecked conflict can rapidly develop into a toxic culture within a firm which can result in an increased rate of staff churn and make it more difficult to recruit, which will impact negatively on the profitability of the business.

Not every conflict requires a leader’s involvement, but it is important for law firm leaders not to sleepwalk into a problem. If your staff see that behaviour causing conflict is tolerated, they will take that as a sign that it is accepted, so law firm leaders must have the difficult conversations at an early stage.

So, what approach should law firm leaders take when dealing with conflict?

  1. Get to know your people and what makes them tick – do not try to resolve conflict without doing this first.
  2. Develop a culture where minor conflicts can be aired and discussed so they can be “nipped in the bud” and do not become a cause of simmering resentment down the line.
  3. Be an authentic leader – walk the walk demonstrating the values of the business. Talk and listen to your people. Show empathy and that you want to find a way through the conflict.
  4. Identify the cause of conflict based on the facts, not on a “he said, she said” basis and do not allow any subconscious bias to form part of your process.
  5. Make time to build a Team Charter which sets out how you will work together as a team, how you will deal with conflict, what are your joint values and goals and how you will demonstrate respect for everyone.
  6. Once a course of action has been agreed, ensure regular follow ups to ensure resolution remains on track

Where conflict arises within a law firm it is crucial that the leaders grasp the nettle, have the difficult conversations early and do not allow the frustrations and conflicts to fester and develop into a negative culture which will damage your firm’s brand and financial performance.

If you would like to discuss any of the themes raised in this article please contact Ian Hopkins, Wayne Williams, or Paul Jones of cpm21.