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The Collegial PhenomenonThe Social Mechanisms of Cooperation Among Peers in a Corporate Law Partnership$

Emmanuel Lazega

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780199242726

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199242726.001.0001

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(p.276) Appendix A. Fieldwork and Questionnaire

(p.276) Appendix A. Fieldwork and Questionnaire

The Collegial Phenomenon
Oxford University Press

This structural study is exploratory and inductive, although systematic; it is both qualitative and quantitative. It combines a qualitative approach such as that of Glaser and Strauss (1968) and Crazier (1963), and a more formalized approach using network analysis. Data collection was based on qualitative interviews with several open-ended questions, on sociometric questionnaires filled out in my presence, and on systematic documents provided by the administration of the firm (such as performance data for the year before and after fieldwork, or the partnership agreement). However, in spite of this relative openness compared to other law firms, access was limited. I did not see firm’s files or attend a partnership meeting.

The data were collected between October 1989 and June 1991. Research was carried out in two stages. During the first stage, I interviewed forty lawyers with managerial responsibilities (managing partners, members of committees, heads of departments), administrators and business officers in six of the largest law firms (between 60 and 250 lawyers) in a north-eastern US state. Professor Geoffrey Hazard, at Yale Law School, helped by supporting the project and making the first phone call. A senior partner of one of the six firms, Spencer, Grace & Robbins, agreed to be interviewed, and then to introduce me to other partners in his firm. The managing partner of SG&R then introduced me to managing partners in other firms. The first stage of the project snowballed its way through. These interviews were about the formal structure of the firms and their respective organizational policies. This exploratory fieldwork provided a clear picture of how they dealt with the changes in the US market for legal services and in the US legal profession in the early 1990s. It also focused on their attempts to find new organizational forms better suited to this environment, mainly in order to control the partner-associate spiraie and increase their flexibility for the development of new practice areas. In addition, I conducted interviews in New York firms for comparative purposes.

The research proposal sent out to these firms for the first stage stressed that the study was concerned with the management of law firms, that it focused on issues such as the structure of the firm, its policies concerning specialization, compensation, recruitment and admission to partnership, growth, division of labour, personal working styles, and relationships between colleagues (for instance, exchanges of expertise). It offered insights into the organization of the firm that could assist evaluation of future strategy. It presented the study as relying on in-depth interviews that would cover the areas mentioned above. It also mentioned further developments of this prefect, which could include collecting quantitative data and statistical analysis. Confidentiality was guaranteed by the fact that I was concerned with organizational and managerial issues, not with specific cases and substantive areas of law. It was agreed that participation in this project would not threaten any privileged relation with clients. Individual interviews with members of the firm would not be made available to other persons In the firm. The name of the firm, the names of its clients (if they happened to be mentioned), would be kept strictly confidential.

The second stage of fieldwork, the network study at SG&E, took place in January and February 1991, with tests conducted on name generators and the vignette a few months earlier. This was negotiated with the firm as a study of its level of collegfality. The firm provided an office and authorized me to contact all its attorneys to seek an appointment. The managing partner sent a memo to all the members of the firm, supporting the project. To take (p.277) me in meant a strong political commitment from him. All agreed to be interviewed. It was also agreed upon, that an interview would not last more than forty-five minutes. Many partners, however, opened their door for longer discussions. In addition to Geoffrey Hazard’s support, advice from Kenneth Mann and Stanley Wheeler at Yale Law School, from Miguel Centeno and Albert Reiss at Yale Sociology, from Ursula Cassani at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, and from Bill Felstiner at the American Bar Foundation in Chicago, was also very helpful in handling this negotiation so as not to be considered a threat or a waste of time. Interviews with former partners and associates were also helpful in the interpretation of results.

A report on the informal mechanisms of firm integration was sent to the hrm in April 1991. Later discussions with the managing partner showed that the firm was interested, at the time, in the fact that, in the firm as a whole, horizontal, vertical, and spatial differentiation impeded integration, while both strong and weak ties integrated the firm across formal boundaries created by this differentiation. Integration was secured differently, by different types of relationships, all compounded—at the time—under the name of ‘collegial relationships’, in different corners of the structure. Years later, as a former managing partner, he was interested enough in the idea of this book to discuss the findings and to provide more information that the firm was not prepared to share at the time of fieldwork, such as a copy of the partnership agreement and firm accounts measuring individual members' economic performance for the years of fieldwork. He read the drafts of the papers written based on this study and provided helpful criticism and suggestions, as well as confirmation of the validity of the results.

The questionnaire used for systematic data collection included soctometric name generators used to reconstitute co-workers, whole-picture, advice, friendship, and influence networks. All interviewees were presented with a list of all the members (attorneys) of their firm. Interviewees were asked to annotate the lists of names based on the following questions.

Co-workers' network: ‘Because most firms like yours are also organized very informally, it is difficult to get a clear idea of how the members really work together. Think back over the past year, consider all the lawyers in your firm. Would you go through this list and check the names of those whom you have worked with. (By “worked with” I mean that you have spent time together on at least one case, that you have been assigned to the same case, that they read or used your work product or that you have read or used their work product; this includes professional work done within the firm like Bar association work, administration, etc.)’

Whole-picture network: ‘Now look at your list of all the members that you Just checked as a strong co-worker. When you work on a case, you have or make up your own picture of the case, think about how to handle it, and about what is going on in it. My question is the following: when you work on a case with each of these persons, do you usually feel that you share the whole picture of the case with him or her? If yes, why? If not, why not? (For each justification, make sure that the answer contains an indication about why sharing or not sharing is legitimate.)’

Basic advice network: ‘Think back over the past year, consider all the lawyers in your firm. To whom did you go for basic professional advice? For instance, you want to make sure that you are handling a case right, making a proper decision, and you want to consult someone whose professional opinions are in general of great value to you. By advice I do not mean simply technical advice.’

(p.278) Friendship network: ‘Would you go through this list, and check the names of those you socialize with outside work. You know their family, they know yours, for instance. I do not mean all the people you are simply on a friendly level with, or people you happen to meet at firm functions.’

[For partners only] Influence (or ‘listening’) network: ‘Would you go through this list of your partners, and check the names of those you consider as influential for important decisions made in the firm, on matters of firm policy; this could include partners you pay special attention to when they speak up at partnership meetings, for instance.’

[For partners only] Lateral control scenario: ‘Here is the list of all the partners in the firm. I would like you to imagine that you are the managing partner. You notice that X is having personal problems. It could be anything, from alcohol to depression, or divorce. But it has repercussions on his or her performance. As a managing partner, it is your job to do something about it. You are looking for colleagues of his or hers among the other partners of the firm to intercede on a discreet and confidential basis, to go and talk to him or her, see what’s going on, what the firm can do to help, and give unsolicited advice. You don't want to do this yourself because you want to keep it informal, and your position would be in the way. My question is: who are the persons among all the other partners whom you would ask to approach X, and why would you delegate this task to them? What if this person were Y, or Z, etc.?’

The questionnaire ended with a question on management policies: ‘What is your position with regard to each of the four policy issues being discussed today in your firm: workflow, marketing, compensation, peer review? Should the firm change its policies?’

In-depth interviews on the firm, its history, and the meaning of collegiality were conducted with partners particularly interested in the project and quoted more often than others in the text.