Why I started this firm -
In 2015, after practicing law for seven years, I was weighing my options and trying to decide what I really wanted. I knew I wanted to keep defending railroads. I love the railroad. It is an American industry unlike any other and a source of endless fascination and innovation. And I love how well they take care of their people. I knew I wanted to work with the best trial attorneys in the country and keep learning and getting better - and I saw several firms across the country that were doing things really well, and I wanted to work with all of them. I knew that I wanted the opportunity to take on a plaintiff's case in the civil rights or consumer protection areas if I found one I really believed in. And I knew that I wanted to be in Kansas City at least part of the time.
I also knew that there were some aspects of the traditional law firm model that just don't work. All our lives we've been told that the only way to get ahead is to compete. This is true in a many industries - but it is even more pronounced in the practice of law. We compete with each other in law school to get the best grade, we compete with each other to get the most coveted summer internship, and we compete to get the right job at a big firm out of law school. And the pervasive atmosphere of competition compounds itself within the traditional big law firm model.
This is not to say that I don't love competition. I absolutely do. Just ask anyone who's faced me in the courtroom. I enjoy competition so much that I spend all my free time preparing my myself and my horse for competition in the show-jumping ring.
But what I don't like is when fear and internal competition prevents you providing the best results and product for your client. If you are discouraged from collaborating with attorneys outside your firm, and there is reluctance to share information within the firm - the result is stifled creativity, infighting, and fear.
So before I started this firm, I began to look around and see what worked. I realized the people I admire most started and ran businesses because invention and innovation is a joy, and because working alongside brilliant, creative people is its own reward. I saw that the people within the legal community who get the best results for their clients are the lawyers and law firms who collaborate, and the ones who make decisions out of passion for what they do. I saw that the people who were struggling and unhappy with their work made decisions out of fear, in an attempt to avoid failure. I saw that my own success was a result of the relationships I'd developed with my clients and my joy in learning new things and sharing information.
In addition to my own observations, I did some research. I really wanted to know what makes some groups more successful and productive than others. Fortunately for me, the researchers at MIT and Google answered this question, and Margaret Heffernan in her engaging and delightful TED Talk explained it. Heffernan explained that MIT brought in hundreds of volunteers, put them into groups, and they gave them very hard problems to solve. And what happened was exactly what you'd expect, some groups were way more successful than others. But what was really interesting was that the high-achieving groups were not those where they had one or two people with spectacularly high I.Q. Nor were the most successful groups the ones that had the highest aggregate I.Q. Instead, they had three characteristics:
(1) First of all, they showed high degrees of social sensitivity to each other. This is measured by something called the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test. It's broadly considered a test for empathy, and the groups that scored highly on this did better.
(2) Second, the successful groups gave roughly equal time to each individual in the group so that no one voice dominated,but neither were there any passengers.
(3) Third, the more successful groups had more women in them. (If you don't believe me you can read the actual scientific journal article here: Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups.)
(You probably won't be surprised to learn that most traditional big law firms are quite deficient in all three categories.)
After learning about this, I delved further into the topic. I had already read Charles Duhigg's wonderful book "The Power of Habit." His second book, "Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Productivity in Life and Business," described what Google learned when they researched why some groups perform better than others. What Project Aristotle taught people within Google is that no one wants to put on a "work face" when they get into the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. And the groups that performed really well were the ones that had "psychological safety." In these groups people felt free enough to share things without fear of recrimination, and while they outperformed other groups, they were not focused just on efficiency. No one was a means to an end. Project Aristotle taught Google (the most data-loving entity in the world) that you can't optimize everything. Success is built on experiences and relationships.
The MIT research, and the research done by Google at Project Aristotle backed up my own observations. So I decided to create what I wanted. The law firms with the people I admired and wanted to work with and learn from - I knew that those people had worked hard to create a good environment in their firms and that they would be excited to collaborate with me. I knew that I had a unique skill set and a knowledge base of technology, storytelling, and trial presentation that they would be excited to utilize.
And my bigger clients agreed and gave me work right away. It was easy to sell this idea even starting out as a solo practitioner because innovative, Fortune 500 companies already knew that a culture of collaboration and innovation works because they practice it and encourage it in their own businesses. And they knew that doing business this way saves money, because you create and maintain a massive network of innovative people who will help you answer a question or solve a problem in half the time it would normally take. And in the practice of law, like in most things, time is money.
This intentionally collaborative law practice is working. And it is growing. If you want to be a part of what we are doing, or you want to collaborate or work with us in some way please contact me.
- Angela L. Angotti, Owner ACT Law Firm, LLC.