Law departments: a close-knit family or a leave-me-alone workplace

Several posts have commented on the emotional odyssey of Borealis AG’s law department and its deeply-committed general counsel, Ruth Steinholtz, which appears in the ACC Docket, Vol. 26, Nov. 2008 at 38. A small part of her many-pronged approach to departmental effectiveness appears at the end as Steinholtz summarizes the steps she took: “Help them get to know each other as individuals beyond their roles.”

Some people in law departments want to feel part of a family, a group of friends that shares ups and downs, personal achievements and worries, secrets and aspirations. Some people, however, shy away from what they perceive as invasions of privacy, unwelcome personal disclosures, and sloppy emotionalism. It’s a job, not a group therapy session.

There is no best practice here. There is no right balance of intimacy and professionalism, of harmony and productivity. Especially as law departments grow and spread out, a sense of personal involvement and trust becomes harder to sustain.

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