In his recent discussion of Charles Heckscher’s book, The Collaborative Enterprise, Larry Prusak notes that while collaboration may be the latest buzzword (with all the attendant shallow writing and commentary that regularly accompanies business fads), Hecksher’s book is a material improvement over most of the other available analysis of collaboration. One striking observation is reported by Prusak in the following way:
[Heckscher] knows well that collaboration depends on trust, and trust depends on a sense of shared equity within the organization. In situations of gross disparities of power and compensation how can one expect collaboration? The real class conflict that exists within most organizations strongly inhibits real collaboration.
These notions of “shared equity” and the perils of “class conflict” raise some interesting issues for law firms, which tend to be highly hierarchical and often lack a sense of shared equity between the partners and their employees (including associates and the non-lawyer staff). If Prusak and Heckscher are correct, will it ever be possible for law firms to develop a true culture of collaboration?