Ethnographic studies needed of corporate counsel at work

A professor at the Harvard Business School, Leslie Perlow, applies the principles of ethnography to her research into how professionals work (Fin. Times, Sept. 26, 2005 at 15). Were she to study a law department, she would spend extended periods in the offices of in-house counsel to record working patterns.

As an example, she is studying whether long working hours and lack of job flexibility in high-performance professional services companies (law firms and their 2,100 chargeable hours a year for associates?) is “inherent in the nature of the jobs themselves or simply the way people have come to work.”

Some of the intractable questions about how best to run a law department might soften or yield entirely if researchers could carry out ethnographic studies. (See my post of Dec. 17, 2005 on the intractable problems of law departments.) For an interesting discussion of cultural studies and lawyers, see Legalaffairs, Vol. 5, Jan./Feb. 2006 at 20 (“Nowadays, anthropologists tend to focus on identifying specific patterns of behavior within groups and organizations…”)

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