This week’s NALP conference included a lively discussion on law firm transparency, stemming from the new transparency questions in Vault’s law firm associate survey. As I discussed in my prior post, one of the main concerns over transparency was internal firm information leaking into the public. The conversation grew quite passionate, with both panel members and session attendees directing some frustration toward Above the Law—known for breaking the latest happenings at law firms and for its no-holds-barred comments section—whose managing editor David Lat was in attendance.
While there is no doubt that the Internet and social media pose challenges for firms in managing their internal communications, these challenges are here to stay. We are in a communication-heavy, real-time, Internet world—and we’re not going back. Rather than getting stressed about the negatives of the Internet and keeping their lips pursed, firms should develop strategies to properly address transparency in this connected world. I think these strategies should include more-personalized communication with associates (as was raised in the panel discussion), openness to answering associates’ questions and concerns about firm decisions (also raised in the panel) and relationship-building. In other words, associates should be more than numbered robots—they should be valued, trusted parts of the team.
Of course, as Charlotte Wager of Jenner & Block pointed out during the panel, certain information that would be appropriate for internal-firm disclosure isn’t meant to be shared externally. I agree with that, and I understand why firms would be hesitant to share sensitive information with the risk of it leaking to an online source. But maybe this all goes back to building relationships and trust with your associates.
With proper trust in place, firms can convey the gravity of the data and the importance of keeping certain information internal. After all, associates don’t leak confidential information about their clients and matters (or if they did, they’d be in a lot of ethical hot water). Perhaps with an appreciation of the knowledge being shared with them, a deeper understanding of why it is sensitive and specific notice that the information is for internal use only, associates will be less likely to leak it.
Sure, certain information that is less private and more personal to associates—such as compensation and yearly bonuses—may not be kept out of the limelight. We have to accept this new standard to a degree. But with well-developed practices and relationships, firms may be able to boost their transparency without sweating.
Law Firm Transparency: Whether or How to Disclose?