• Gerard Petersen

Are loyalty and collegiality now undervalued old school notions?

Some recent conversations with Partners got me thinking again about what loyalty is worth ? And collegiality. Who actually values them, the individual or the firm? Both? If they can be valued, are they overpriced, overhyped ?

There are some firms who make a virtue of what they proclaim is their collegiate and collaborative culture as an apparent attraction (and retention) strategy for Partners.

But in the business of law in which we operate, is your loyalty to and the touted collegiality of a partnership (even if it does exist more than elsewhere) costing you a lot of money?

I’ve wondered for quite a while whether in fact those firms who talk most about the virtue of their collegiate and collaborative culture might just be trying hard to mask a broader malaise, that being a lack of strategic direction and profitability within their business. Their business being one that has conditioned itself to accept average financial performance over a long period of time while its senior, older Partners talk up the value of being part of their collegiate, collaborative culture.

But the rubber hits the road when a hitherto loyal, top performing Partner feels like they are being undervalued by their firms remuneration/business model and is told that they can’t earn more without upsetting the proverbial apple cart ie: their collegiate relationship with other Partners because it would skew parity amongst the Partner cohort. In other words under-rewarding the high performer to keep the not-so-high performers happy.

If a Partner knows they can earn say 20% - 50% (in one recent deal I did, 100%) more for the same gross profit contribution in a different business, then the value of loyalty & any collegiality is tested to the limit.

I just wonder whether sometimes it is all a bit overvalued & overhyped, somewhat “old-school” notions sitting awkwardly in the increasingly cut-throat, commercial business of law. Something to trot out as a signature feature when a firm is struggling to sell the business proposition of why a Partner should stay or join their firm. 

And, with the nationalisation, internationalisation and corporatisation of law firms I’m also seeing increasingly one-way traffic around loyalty where upon merger/takeover/integration things like loyalty and collegiality become valued very differently, in some cases not worth anything to the new entity.

Which raises various questions: Is it possible to have a high performing culture, a highly profitable business model and a genuinely collegiate and collaborative culture? Or are they becoming more mutually exclusive? Are legal careers, including those of Partners, now becoming more in the nature of pure business relationships, reflecting the mood of law firm clients of being less loyal, more transient, and far more commercially savvy in their decision making? 

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