Settling Law Firm Disputes Like Scotland’s Referendum? Maybe Not…. But Here Are Other Ideas

Maybe it’s the referendum in Scotland, or maybe it’s the Season 6 return of legal sitcom The Good Wife, but partnership dissolution is on everybody’s mind.

Since we’re against television spoilers, let’s talk politics. On Thursday, voters said “no” to a plan to tend the 307-year union with England in 55.3 percent to 44.7 percent margin of victory. So, this week, at least, there is a single United Kingdom.

A lot of Europeans are left wondering, “What happens now?”

The queen, who reigns over the people, not politics, called for “mutual respect and support” and believes the “enduring love of Scotland” will help propel the kingdom forward, reports CBS news.

For his turn, Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown took a no-nonsense approach to the question of what’s next. Hail the conqueror, Brown is considered largely responsible for the Scottish referendum defeat. He said:

“There is a time to fight, but there is a time to unite, and this is the time for Scotland to unite and see if it can find common purpose and move from the battleground to the common ground, and let us seek to find high ground in trying to find a way forward for the future.”

The problem with a call to change is often only extreme solutions prevail. Then, at the end of the day, when more moderate voices overcome, there’s leftover resentment.

Why? Because nothing has changed.

Defeated SNP leader Alex Salmond is alleging Scotland can still separate, despite the referendum (via DailyMail Online).

Plus, headlines read “Scotland’s young, feisty yes generation has nowhere to go,” “With one battle over in Scotland, Another begins,” and “Scotland’s vote settle’s nothing.

This kind of toxic talk doesn’t just rattle national borders, it rattles law firm bureaus.

Disputes within law firms occur as often as between parliaments—whether it’s over associate compensation, partnership agreements, or even office space. Left unchecked, resulting negative chatter, gossip, and backstabbing stalls productivity and increases turnover.

Even if an internal “referendum”-style vote is taken for certain workplace decisions, law firm professionals or partners may not feel appeased.

Cue, leadership. Leaders must set reasonable standards, gain employee trust and cooperation, and constantly assess employee problems to determine appropriate action.

Set reasonable standards for change. Make sure you encourage suggestions for new practices within your firm, but these suggestions should be framed by what your firm is able and willing to do or can afford. The rhetoric you use should be firm and steadfast, but sensitive.

Next, spend time to gain the trust of your employees. This means responding to communication in a timely manner. This means being attentive to even “trivial” matters. And, it means following through on any verbal or written promises (or not making them in the first place.).

Finally, as a law firm manager, you need to spend quality face-time with your associates. This means talking to them individually, finding out their job satisfaction levels, and listening to their personal suggestions for workplace improvement. Only then will you know what kind of reasonable action can be taken—without resorting to resentment-breading referendums or radical change.

In the workplace, like politics, the storm is rarely quickly resolved. But, with proper preparation and leadership, your firm can ride out it out until the calm just around the proverbial corner.

For more advice, take The Center for Competitive Management’s audio course on Friday, October 3, 2014, at 11AM to 12:15PM EST. Sign up here.

Toxic Behavior at Work: Strategies to Reduce Dysfunction, Defuse Venom, and Improve Workplace Morale” is a comprehensive, content-rich session provides realistic solutions to reduce negativity and toxic behavior at work and provides concrete solutions to:

  • Assess the current toxicity level in your group or company,
  • Set a clear, healthier standard;
  • Detoxify the workplace environment; and
  • Get everyone on the same page about positive communication.


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