Six generic processes by which law department managers make decisions

A columnist (Simon London, Fin. Times, Jan. 11, 2006 at 10) draws from a classic book by Edgar Schein (Process Consultation Revisited, Addison-Wesley 1998) the following six methods to make decisions. I have translated them to law departments and listed them in declining order of frequency:

1. “Decision by formal authority.” After a 30-minute discussion on whether to hire a consultant, the general counsel announces, “We will hire one.” The process could be efficient if the GC makes good choices, but the rest of the group might not buy in.
2. “Decision by lack of response.” A direct report to the general counsel suggests an action – “let’s hire another paralegal for immigration work,” perhaps – but nobody at the meeting even comments. Schein, calling such a turn-down a “plop,” notes that “The floors of most group meetings are completely covered by plops.”
3. “Decision by consensus.” Slow, builds-buy in, but probably worthwhile only for very significant decisions, such as managerial promotions
4. “Decision by self-authorization.” An Associate General Counsel says, “Let’s prepare a training program on the legal issues of derivatives,” no one says anything (a plop), and the AGC takes silence as consent to go ahead.
5. “Decision by majority vote.” Sounds good to have a show of hands on whether to track time internally, but it can lead to political in-fighting and coalition building.
6. “Decision by unanimity.” With a group of senior lawyers? OK for trivial decisions.

When you face a decision, give some thought to the process by which the decision is to be made. The process can decide the outcome.

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