A consultant recently asked “Are you making this decision for the firm, or are you making this decision for the club?” The question has stuck with me and it is one that I’ve asked others when it comes time to make decisions that are going to cause some people to have to change their habits. It is a pretty straight forward question, but there is a lot of meaning behind it. Do you do something that benefits everyone, and causes pain to a few, or do you do something that has little to no benefit for everyone, but keeps a few select people happy?

Whenever  hear something like this, I immediately think of the scene in the movie Office Space where there is a banner hanging over the staff that asks “Is This Good for the COMPANY?” The Draconian concept of stiffling innovation and individuality and relying upon following every rule and playing your part as a single cog in a great big machine. With “The Firm or The Club” question, however, I don’t think it falls into this “Is this good for the Company?” category. Instead, I think it allows for creativity and innovation and discourages the collective and blindly following the rules. In fact, I would say that this question gets raised whenever new ideas and innovation are shot down rather than when new ideas are accepted. Most times when new ideas are dismissed, it tends to fall under the idea that “we can’t do that because Partner X, who has been with the firm for 150 years, wouldn’t like it.”

So the next time you have a discussion about changing the way you are doing business, and the idea is challenged or dismissed, ask those making the decision if they are deciding upon what benefits the firm, or what benefits the club?

  • I don't think the answer is ever entirely clear when it comes to this debate, especially when motives can often be veiled. A person really has to ask themselves why they are doing something, and they may not always be honest with themselves. Sometimes perception plays a large role in a person's motives.

  • Business decisions made for the good of the company is based on the assumption that in order for the company to benefit from them all units should work, aspire and function as a collective. Nothing's wrong with that.

    However, law firm economics by and large behaves more like the third law of Newtonian physics– to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction. The harsh reality is that many firms are probably doing something that have little benefits for everyone but keeping a select few (with hefty accounts) happy.

    While the law of physics is well-established and predictable, one can only make an educated guess on the outcome of business decisions. Unidirectional initiatives are rare occurrences in law practice.