September 18, 2009

Altman Weil Endorses Ombuds Programs for Large Law Firms

A recent newsletter from the global legal management consulting company suggests that it is time for law firms to consider Organizational Ombuds as a means of addressing internal discord. The newsletter, “Report to Legal Management,” is written for lawyer-managers in law firms and law departments, and provides provides cutting-edge management insight.

In the July/August 2009 issue, Douglas B. Richardson writes that changes in law firm practice seem to be fostering greater internal discord. Large, often multinational, law firms have come to resemble corporations in terms of size, grown and geographic decentralization. “Many once-collegial firms have not only lost the ability to resolve interpersonal dispute, they have lost the ability to take the pulse of their own morale,” Richardson said. He concludes that Ombuds programs may be a remedy for law firms, as they have been for many corporations.

The article features an extended discussion between Richardson and John Zinsser, who has served as an Ombuds and consultant for many corporations. Zinsser acknowledged that it would be a novel concept for law firms, which are comfortable with a legalistic and formal dispute resolution process, to accept the highly personalized and flexible Ombuds process. Nonetheless, he assured that Ombuds programs return economic and humanistic benefits for their organizations. Zinsser said that “a properly structured and executed ombudsman program could return more than $40 of value for every dollar invested.”

This is a compelling article that explains why law firms should establish Ombuds programs. Unfortunately, a subscription is required to access it. (Report to Legal Management.)

Related posts: DLA Piper Job Posting; Kaye Scholer Implements Ombuds Program; Study Concludes Large Law Firms Should Have Ombuds.


  1. I can provide a copy of the article in response to direct requests.
    Feel free to email me at

  2. I haven't paid to read the article (yet), but wanted to address the issue per a typical aspect of American law firm culture. The first question that attorneys will ask and analyze when they go to see an ombuds is whether there is legal protection for confidentiality and thus, against discovery. The idea is sexy, but any hesitancy in legal protection will send attorneys flying out of the door wondering if anyone saw them going in in the first place. This is something that should be considered and solidly sealed before a move to introduce ombuds programs in law firms. Perhaps an in-house "mediator" could offer the terminology that could yield the coveted protection. It's not a matter of what system is better in its function, but what is a good fit given law firm culture.