The Pitfalls of Working in Silos: A Lesson from the Dog Next Door

Everything I know about business, I learned from my dog Star

The dog next door is one of the sweetest dogs I have ever met. Her name is Dakota and she is a chocolate brown Chesapeake Retriever.

Dakota works the human crowd as well as any business developer I have ever met.

But Dakota works alone. She does not like other dogs — even my dog Star. She tolerates Star, but after a few minutes she turns away or starts a fight. She’s like that with most of the dogs in the neighborhood. As a result, not many people stop to give her attention. When her owner goes away, she has to stay by herself. We’d love to bring her to our house, but she can’t because she doesn’t play well with Star.

It’s kind of sad. All the neighborhood dogs like to stop in our yard to play with Star. They run wild on the lawns throughout the neighborhood while Dakota is stuck behind the fence barking. It’s not that she doesn’t get love and attention, but she could get so much more.

I see more and more lawyers in law firms behaving like Dakota. Firms that have great breadth and diversity of talent can’t generate significant new revenue because their lawyers decide to go it alone instead of working collaboratively. I’ve watched partners at firms destroy the culture all because they want to get what they can get for themselves and not take any responsibility for the growth of the firm as a whole.

I understand the risk of partnership. I understand the fear that comes with sharing personal relationships without any guarantee of reciprocation. But isn’t the point of partnership that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts? If you don’t want to share your knowledge, your relationships, your experience, why become a partner at all?

Law firms are in a tough predicament. The traditional law firm business model is under great stress. Changes in fee structures, improved business process and technology integration are all needed if law firms are going to thrive in the way they have historically. But none of those changes are going to work if lawyers don’t pull out of their silos and start working together.

Given the choice, wouldn’t you rather be a Star?

Posted on August 13, 2010 in It's a Dog's Life

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