The value of ethnography in understanding law departments

Wikipedia has this to say as its introduction to ethnography. Ethnography is “writing that presents varying degrees of qualitative and quantitative descriptions of human social phenomena, based on fieldwork. Ethnography presents the results of a holistic research method founded on the idea that a system’s properties cannot necessarily be accurately understood independently of each other. … “

Let’s unpack that quote. Law departments are systems and ought to be looked at holistically (See my posts of Aug. 28, 2005 about the McKinsey 7S model; and Feb. 6, 2007 on models generally.)

Law departments are ripe for ethnographic field research (See my post of Dec. 16, 2005 on ethnographic studies of law departments.). Companies would benefit from people trained in the discipline who could combine an understanding of how in-house counsel spend their time, what their offices and locations say about work (See my posts of March 23, 2007 about proximity and knowledge exchange; May 24, 2007 #3 on open offices; June 5, 2007 on office layouts; and Dec. 17, 2007 on art work.), social and demograhic networks (See my post of Jan. 6, 2006.), dress codes (See my post of Oct. 22, 2005 on dress-down choices.); and technology or tool use (See my post of Nov. 27, 2007 about my work-in-process definition of “tools.”).

An ethnographic perrspective would help us understand better how law departments operate. After all, “Many cultural anthropologists consider ethnography the essence of the discipline” (See my post of June 24, 2007 on what a cultural anthropologist could glean about law departments.).

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