Legal Manager Playbook: Resolving Conflicts Among Legal Professionals


Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. When you consider the diversity of personalities among staff members, the broad range of issues and pressures they face and the collaboration that is increasingly required on legal projects, differing opinions are unavoidable, and even personality clashes and disputes are bound to surface.

For a legal manager, quickly and proactively dealing with conflicts in the workplace is essential. Here are four strategies that can help resolve and diffuse conflicts among legal staff members:

1. Keep a watchful eye

In the legal workplace, where business and performance expectations are high, and heavy caseloads and tight deadlines are the norm, conflicts can arise. As a manager, keep your antenna up for signs of tension among legal professionals that may be impacting team productivity or causing dissatisfaction. Be alert to the early warning signs — for example, when employees miss deadlines or seem less interested or engaged in the work; when they aren’t performing at usual levels; when a legal professional isn’t working cooperatively with others, sharing information or contributing to a project.

2. Know when to step in

Minor disagreements between workers occur frequently and usually are settled quickly. However, it’s important for managers to recognize when their action is required to resolve an issue before it can jeopardize morale and productivity. I believe many managers make the mistake of trying to resolve every conflict themselves. Instead, encourage team members to work through the issue. I ask individuals with a potential conflict to talk about the problem (in-person is best, or by phone, but not email) to come up with a mutually agreed upon solution. When employees can’t resolve a disagreement themselves, only then should a manager step in to actively mediate a solution.

3. Stick to the facts

When you do step in, collect and verify the facts surrounding the conflict by talking with the employees separately. Ask each individual for their perspectives on what is causing the dispute and any suggestions they may have to resolve it. Push for specific information and facts and don’t get swayed by someone’s account. Your responsibility as a manager is to form your own evaluation based on the facts. Then sit down with both employees and facilitate a discussion. Start by defining the problem, outlining the negative impact the conflict is having within the organization and why it needs to be resolved. Ask the employees to each offer several approaches that could resolve the conflict. From there, you can continue to brainstorm possible solutions and work with the employees to evaluate the options until agreement is reached. Throughout the problem-solving exercise, the manager’s most important role is to help the employees come up with their own ideas to eliminate the conflict and offer a solution.

4. Consider staffing assignments

If you’ve tried a number of approaches and still haven’t been able to resolve a major conflict between workers, it may be time to consider a more drastic solution. For example, if you've assigned two strong-willed individuals to a team, and they cannot find common ground despite countless attempts, you may find you need to reassign the two employees to different teams in order to eliminate the source of conflict and re-establish a productive, collaborative environment.  

Do you have any tips to help resolve conflict among employees in the legal workplace? Share your comments below.