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Podcast Ep. 31: Harvard Law's Dr. Heidi Gardner on the Benefits of Smart Collaboration for Law Firms

by Good2bSocial • January 2nd, 2018 • Podcast

Collaboration is more important today than it was yesterday and will be more important tomorrow than it is today.

Harvard Law’s Dr. Heidi Gardner joins Good2bSocial’s CEO Guy Alvarez to discuss smart collaboration in the legal industry backed up by data and research.

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Our guest, Heidi K. Gardner, PhD, is a Distinguished Fellow in the Center on the Legal Profession at Harvard Law School. She also serves as a Lecturer on Law and the Faculty Chair of the school’s Accelerated Leadership Program executive course. Dr. Gardner’s research focuses on leadership and collaboration in professional service firms, and her book Smart Collaboration: How Professionals and Their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos was published to great acclaim by Harvard Business Press in January 2017. Twitter: @HeidiGardnerPhD

Reluctance to collaborate

The resistance to collaborate in law firms can at least partially be explained by the numerous senior partners who have been successfully operating in traditional ways who ask: Is collaboration really necessary? However, the answer is yes. Collaboration is more important today than it was yesterday and will be more important tomorrow than it is today.

The link between collaboration and business development

Data shows that lawyers who work across organizational boundaries and tap into their colleagues’ expertise are significantly better at business development. Global problems are becoming increasingly complicated. Issues like cybersecurity and political uncertainty require different sets of knowledge and custom solutions from diverse experts. Therefore, lawyers must integrate their expertise and collaborate.

Another factor in the increasing need for collaboration is specialization. Due to rapidly changing knowledge, lawyers are more specialized meaning they are deep, but narrow experts in their practice areas. Lawyers who collaborate are more successful business developers because they have opportunities to discover more sophisticated issues that their clients are facing. When they team up with their colleagues and are able to provide seamless, custom solutions, they are are able to differentiate themselves from traditional lawyers.

What are the client development benefits of smart collaboration?

The two main benefits of smart collaboration are financial and strategic. Law firms that engage in collaboration can expect an increase in revenue and profits. They can also gain a competitive advantage by strategically positioning themselves as one of the few firms that utilizes smart collaboration effectively. Clients are more likely to remain loyal to a law firm if they are being served by more than one partner there.

Why haven’t firms embraced smart collaboration more fully?

Smart collaboration is not a simple solution and it’s not a panacea. Law firms can be hesitant to make significant shifts in how they operate especially when it requires time and financial investment. However, firms who are embracing collaboration are definitely seeing significant advantages. After the initial investment, smart collaboration pays off in terms of both business and client development.

Collaboration technology

Law firms are beginning to use knowledge sharing technology more often and innovate how they keep their information databases up to date. Yet, it’s surprising how few law firms have taken advantage of strategic planning technology. When lawyers are engaged in a true strategic planning process there is technology that can help with time management, planning investments, and keeping firm objectives transparent. These types of tools can help facilitate firm-wide collaboration.

What are the biggest obstacles that law firms face in smart collaboration?

It can be difficult for lawyers to keep track of all the services and specializations within a law firm and for them to know who to connect clients with. Then, once they do find potential collaboration partners there are the obstacles of confidence trust – Will the lawyer you recommend help your client in an effective and professional way? – and interpersonal trust – Can you trust that the lawyer you’re collaborating with won’t steal your client or take credit for your work?


Law firms that wish to engage in smart collaboration should educate themselves on their own firm’s operations. Which clients are being served by multiple lawyers and where are opportunities to increase collaboration? Look at the current profits and the potential profits if smart collaboration were to be introduced. When implemented, collaboration is beneficial for both the law firm as a whole and for individuals who are able to differentiate themselves from traditional, non-collaborative lawyers.

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