Late-night television and most sitcom reruns provide a treasure trove of marketing ideas and opportunities. They are also remarkable laboratories for analyzing group dynamics and applying those dynamics to a law practice. The original Star Trek television series, which ran from 1966 to 1969, is one of the the older television series that deserve renewed group dynamic analysis, particularly as it applies to big law firms. We’ve recently reanalyzed Star Trek with a law practice in mind, and we now recommend that firms implement a Star Trek analysis to determine how well it may be doing and who in the firm may need some additional life coaching.
Captain James T. Kirk. This is an easy position to identify, as its the most prominent attorney at a large firm who, in addition to being a partner, has lady problems and wears tight polyester shirts. It’s Tom Jones as an attorney. You know who we’re talking about, someone like this guy.
Christopher Pike. He’s just the dead guy partner who is named on the letterhead. Actually, he may still be alive. No one is really quite sure.
Mr. Spock. Every law firm has a Mr. Spock, whose pure logic and unemotional detachment can snatch a disastrous client conflict out of the jaws of the ethics code. Try this. If someone at the firm asks you a question that remotely involves legal ethics, respond with “I’m not sure, go ask Mr. Spock.” Nine out of ten times the person will understand your answer and head over to the firm’s ethics counsel. The other time the person, usually a newbie, will do what many small firm lawyers already do: crowdsource the question on Facebook and hope the client doesn’t see it.
Leonard “Bones” McCoy. Unfortunately, identifying the Leonards in a large firm is a tough business. There are a lot of them. Go next door to your colleague and ask this question: “hey, what’s four plus four?”‘ If your colleague responds with “Fuck, how should I know, I’m a lawyer, not a banker,” then you know he or she is a Leonard. The Leonards are singularly focused, harried, a bit unkempt, and under a delusion that no one listens to them. In other words, a classic fourth year associate.
Lt. Sulu and Pavel Andreievich Chekov. These guys are the firm navigators. The go-to guys when you actually need something, whether its getting a brief bound or scoring a bag of weed. Yep, the copy and mail room clerks. They are, however, incredibly hard working. In fact, some firms have adopted a Star Trek approach to firm dynamics and shout “Sulu!” when something urgent is needed. That phrase typically causes any random pile of papers to be faxed, emailed, efiled and mailed out to the client. Occasionally, it could also mean a Jimmy John’s run, so be careful how and when you use the Sulu command.
Montgomery “Scotty” Scott. Scotty is like you — a second year associate who is asked to overturn U.S. Supreme Court precedent with the following tools: a ball point pen, two paperweights, and a Rolodex. Oh, and you have twenty minutes to do it. With a broken arm. And your office is on fire.
Ensign Johnson. Ah, the hapless Ensign Johnson, always beamed down to a new planet along with Kirk, Spock, and Bones, but surprisingly never to be heard from again. Ensign Johnson is typically a first year associate but could even be the mail room clerk if no one else is around. It’s the person who tags along with 3-4 partners at an important meeting, occasionally to demonstrate that the firm still has vim and vigor or, typically, to be there as a sacrifice if something goes wrong. If you are a young associate and four partners ask you to join them for a lunch meeting with a client, run. Because you ain’t coming back. Oh, and don’t wear red.
Uhura. Lt. Uhura is the future of the law firm. Brash, socially connected, savvy with the media, and wicked smart. The problem is that none of the partners recognize this. The other problem is that she’s a secretary.
With this background, you should be able to review personnel in the office and determine how they fit within the Star Trek Firm Dynamic. Running through this exercise is the first step. Once you have lawyers and staff properly categorized, it should make managing the firm’s personnel dynamics easier. Try it. Let us know what you find out and who may not fit into the matrix.