find the latest legal job
Inhouse Legal Counsel -18 months-4 PAE - Real Estate Investment Company
Category: Banking and Finance Law | Location: Melbourne CBD & Inner Suburbs Melbourne VIC
· In brand new prestigious CBD offices
View details
Senior Associate - Competition, Policy & Regulatory
Category: Other | Location: Sydney CBD, Inner West & Eastern Suburbs Sydney NSW
· Work with a well regarded Partner · Sydney CBD
View details
Commercial Litigation Senior Associate
Category: Litigation and Dispute Resolution | Location: Sydney CBD, Inner West & Eastern Suburbs Sydney NSW
· Lawyers Weekly Australia Partner of the Year 2016, Insolvency
View details
MULTIPLEX Regional Legal Counsel (Vic) | 7 to 10 years + PQE
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: Melbourne CBD & Inner Suburbs Melbourne VIC
· Career defining in-house role · Tier One international contractor
View details
Junior Lawyer - Personal Injury Law
Category: Personal Injury Law | Location: Parramatta & Western Suburbs Sydney NSW
· Highly specialized practice · Challenging role with great opportunities
View details
Hyper-productive, overconfident lawyers could be ‘toxic workers’, study suggests

Hyper-productive, overconfident lawyers could be ‘toxic workers’, study suggests

john-chisholm

While most law firms actively reward lawyers who smash billable hour targets, self-centred overachievers can poison office culture and cost firms money, according to a new study.

A recent study by Harvard Business School identified the key traits of ‘toxic workers’, drawing on a pool of 50,000 workers across 11 companies.  

The researchers found that toxic workers, which ranged from colleagues who were simply annoying through to bullies, had four main traits.

These included over-confidence, self-regard and a tendency to insist that rules should be followed.

Toxic employees also tended to be much more productive than the average worker. “This could explain why toxic workers are selected and are able to remain in an organisation for as long as they do,” the authors wrote.

However, the study also found that toxic workers induce significant costs through attrition and reduced employee morale – and can cause workers around them to become toxic.

"Even relatively modest levels of toxic behaviour can cause major organisational cost, including customer loss, loss of employee morale, increased turnover, and loss of legitimacy among important external stakeholders," the authors wrote.

Speaking with Lawyers Weekly, legal consultant John Chisholm said this study was relevant for law firms.

“[In the legal industry] there are all these in-built factors that almost work against collaboration and, in fact, almost promote some toxicity within the firm,” he said.

Billable hours, which measure lawyers’ output over a short period of time, are not conducive to teamwork and innovation, according to Mr Chisholm.

“If I am measured on my own individual performance, it is my individual billable hours, not yours. So what is my incentive to share and collaborate?” he said.

Mr Chisholm said the rewards structures in law firms can breed toxicity.

“[That is,] the longer I work, the harder I work, the less I engage with others, the more I am rewarded and the more money the firm makes,” he said. “There is not always an incentive to stamp it out.”

There is also a pervasive belief within the legal profession that the damage caused by toxic workers “is just the cost of doing business”, continued Mr Chisholm.

“[Firms might] take on 20 grads or 20 trainees and know that only five are going to survive,” he said.

While law firms might benefit financially in the short term from a competitive culture, those gains will drop off in the long term, according to Mr Chisholm.

Clients will notice if a partner has a high turnover of associates: “I think clients pick up whether they are working with a lawyer who has those [toxic] traits, even if the legal and relationship skills [are there]” he said.

The researchers suggest that the best way to deal with toxic workers is to avoid them or not hire them in the first place.

Mr Chisholm said lawyers that can’t stomach the toxic cultures in some law firms will simply quit.

“Either you join them or get out,” he said.  “That is, either you turn into one of [the bullies] or you find a different environment either within the legal profession or somewhere else.

“[Toxicity] it is the reason we get a lot of good people leaving our profession,” he said.  

However, an increasing number of firms are making genuine endeavours to eradicate bullies and improve their culture, according to Mr Chisholm.

"More and more firms are realising that a toxic culture can be highly detrimental to their people and therefore the long-term success and sustainability of their practices," he concluded.

Like this story? Read more:

QLS condemns actions of disgraced lawyer as ‘stain on the profession’

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

The legal budget breakdown 2017

Hyper-productive, overconfident lawyers could be ‘toxic workers’, study suggests
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
Animal law moots, advocacy, Melbourne University, Australia and New Zealand Intervarsity Moot on Animal Law
Sep 25 2017
Moot unleashes animal advocacy
Melbourne has played host to one of the largest animal law moots, with student participants put th...
Scales
Sep 25 2017
Transgender teens should not need legal approval for hormone treatment, court hears
A transgender 17-year-old known as Kelvin has appealed in the Family Court against the requirement o...
Appointed, Victorian Legal Services Commissioner
Sep 25 2017
NFP CEO appointed Victorian Legal Services Commissioner
The CEO of a Victorian not-for profit pro bono legal services provider has been named as the state...
APPOINTMENTS
Allens managing partner Richard Spurio, image courtesy Allens' website
Jun 21 2017
Promo season at Allens
A group of lawyers at Allens have received promotions across its PNG and Australian offices. ...
May 11 2017
Partner exits for in-house role
A Victorian lawyer has left the partnership of a national firm to start a new gig with state governm...
Esteban Gomez
May 11 2017
National firm recruits ‘major asset’
A national law firm has announced it has appointed a new corporate partner who brings over 15 years'...
opinion
Nicole Rich
May 16 2017
Access to justice for young transgender Australians
Reform is looming for the process that young transgender Australians and their families must current...
Geoff Roberson
May 11 2017
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law, writes Geoff Rober...
Help
May 10 2017
Advocate’s immunity – without fear or without favour but not both
On 29 March 2017, the High Court handed down its decision in David Kendirjian v Eugene Lepore & ...