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Three for 2013: #1 The Team

2012 December 11
by John Wallbillich

This is the time of year for predictions. Last year I put forward seven (State of Legal 2012: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7). I was tempted to just pick three and update.

Honestly, the first one is an outgrowth of last year’s “It takes a lawyer.” Here’s the essence of that point:

What I mean is that for all the talk of cost control, collaboration, teamwork, project management or social media “connecting,” nothing gets done unless someone does something. Each of those laudable concepts or techniques can get bogged down by the fact that often everyone is expecting someone else to take ownership and initiate action.

As change in the enterprise legal industry continues at its glacial pace, I find myself less interested in large organizations and more interested in the small teams inside that can actually do something.

How big of a team, you ask?

Well, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos observes the “two pizza rule.” To encourage innovation and limit groupthink, he holds that if a team can’t be fed with two pizzas at a lunch meeting, it’s too big. (The team, not the pizzas).

Does that mean five? Probably not many more than that. If you have the brawny lad from IT onboard, it may be four.

In the legal sphere, we see this when an excellent small team in a lawsuit can prevail over a larger, if more diffused, group.

We also see this in the sometimes metaphysical realm know as “collaboration.” My working definition: where many are “on” but few are “in.” Like when many are on a conference call, but few are in on key decisions, and almost no one is all in: staking one’s reputation on getting a result.

That last person is called a project manager, or, more generally, a leader.

Change in the law only happens when a small group of well-selected lawyers does something important in a better way.

This is a sobering fact for large law firms and big corporate legal departments: there used to be strength in numbers. Now there can be inertia in that historical critical mass. But when they leverage their people properly, watch out.

If you have ever been on a small team that worked well and got good stuff done, you are lucky. You know how rare it is and much it makes you look forward to going to work.

So I hope in 2013 you are part of such a team. And that you don’t take the last slice of pizza.

Pizza Pizza...

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