Sydney Pollack?s film The Firm is a drama based on an desire to escape from the law firm (Berndini, Lambert, and Lock) from which he was hired. The relatively small but wealthy firm wines and dines the ambitious Harvard Law Graduate?s (played by Tom Cruise) with money and gifts in order to make him part of their team. Overwhelmed by the gracious treatment and substantial offer Mitch McDeere takes the offer to be part of the Firm. The firm gets them caught up in a affluent lifestyle that they never thought they could live. Once involved n the day to day workings of the firm McDeere began to get subtle hints of a corruption with a Mafia mob client. McDeere gets a hold of some information that he shouldn?t have had access to that supports his suspicions. When an FBI agent confronts him with evidence of corruption and murder within the firm, Mitch forms a plan to indite the partners of the firm by gathering information on overbilling of the firms clients. The firms clients files contained information that could destroy both the firm and most of their mob clients. Berndini, Lambert, and Lock had a past history of spending large sums of money on their new lawyers then once they got used to the good life the firm would let them in on the corruption that when on. The firm had a tight control over their partners. They knew everything about their personal life as well as their work life. All their homes were wired and their phones tapped. They also had access to information on their partners family and friends. With such tight controls over their lives they had a power to control their every move. Temptations of escape were smothered by threats of harm. In two cases the threats of harm led to murder.
A reoccurring theme of politics and power emerged throughout the film. For this reason it seems most logical to analyze The Firm based on chapter twelve of Stephen Robbins? book Organizational Behavior. Power is defined as A capacity that A has to influence the behavior of B so that B does things he or she would not otherwise do. The focus of this paper is going to based on the power that the firm had over its employees. In order to better understand the concept of power and where it comes from two published researchers named J.R.P. French Jr. and B. Raven came up with a five-category classification. The five categories are as follows; coercive power, reward power, legitimate power, expert power, and referent power. The firm practiced all five of these categories to gain control over their employees actions. The top partners of the firm possessed a great coercive power over their subordinates. Coercive power is defined as a power based on fear. The lead character Mitch McDeere was in fear of his life and his family?s life if he failed to comply to the firms demands. The foundation of coercive behavior
?…rests on the application, or the threat of application, of physical sanctions such as the infliction of pain, the generation of frustration through restriction of movement, or the controlling by force of basic physiological or safety needs.?
Another classification of power, reward power, is based on compliance achieved based on the ability to distribute rewards that others view as valuable. As stated in the chapter coercive and reward behavior are counterparts of each other. In the movie they were used together. The book describes coercive power as the power to take away something of positive value or to give something of negative value. It goes further to explain reward power as the power to give something of positive value or to take something away of negative value. Under this view one could assume that the firm took away Mitch McDeeres? value of freedom. During the last few scenes of the movie the FBI agent asked Mitch why he went to all the trouble to do what he did. His reply was ?…now I have a life. A life of my own, not someone else?s.? At the same time the firm gave Mitch many things of great value such as a houses, car, and six figure salary.
Another form of power that emerges in The Firm is Legitimate power. Legitimate power is the power that a person receives as a result of his or her position in the formal hierarchy of an organization. Tom Cruise did an excellent job of depiction his characters role in the organization. Mitch was a newcomer to the firm, but he was a very smart individual and a talented lawyer. Because Mitch was such an intelligent person with a strong educational background he exhibited an subtle hint arrogance. Even with this arrogant attitude when confronted by the senior partner Tom Cruise?s character showed his subordinate position with his body language and his use of power tactics such as reason, friendliness assertiveness, and higher authority. These power tactics are fully explained on page 472 of Organizational Behavior. The senior partner?s authority over Mitch is a good example of Legitimate power.
Mitch McDeere also exhibited a power referred to as expert power. This type of power is a form of influence based on special skills or knowledge. Mitch and the rest of the lawyers in the firm had a expert power over the rest of the people in the movie. Their clients respected their opinion. Expert power exists because certain people have educational backgrounds that enable them to give advise to others that the average person would not know. Expert knowledge only exists on a narrow spectrum. A lawyer has a expert advantage over a doctor when the topic of law is discussed. When the topic of medicine is discussed the table is turned to the doctor?s advantage.
The final category of power listed is referent power. Referent power is defined as an influence based on possession by an individual of desirable resources or personal traits. Referent power emerges as a result of admiration of another individual. Since McDeere started of as a character with little money he got caught up in the affluent lifestyle very quickly. This was because he saw something in the other partners that he wished that he had. He admired his colleges? the nice cars, big houses and expensive suits. The fact that he fit in so quickly was due to the fact that he was influenced by the other partners referent power over him.
Berndini, Lambert, and Lock made it a point to maintain a certain image amongst their clients. This image that they tried to maintain could best be explained by a process called impression management. Impression management is defined as the process by which individuals attempt to control the impression others form of them. The firm used impression management to influence their clients and their new recruits. The firm encouraged strong family values and close involvement with the company. There are seven techniques that the book lists to help an individual gain a positive image or impression others view of an individual. Although the book focused on individual impression management techniques I believe that companies are often very concerned with their image management. As a small firm Berndini, Lambert, and Lock had a relatively easy job of maintaining a image of a organization that hires only professional, family oriented individuals with strong values. As a law firm Berndini, Lambert, and Lock felt it was important to make a strong effort to eliminate the negative connotations that many people think of when they hire a lawyer. They accomplished this by maintaining the practice of impression management.
Power and politics is something that will always be around us. As long as there are a variety of people in this world with a limited level of resources it will exist as a form of distribution of these limited resources. Power exists in many forms. Some are done intentionally and some are done without even knowing it. If used correctly power can help some to advance faster in their jobs and enhance their social status. If used incorrectly power can hurt the people it has its influence on. A person that is under the influence of another persons power is at the mercy of the one in authority. This raises the subject of ethics and power. How far should you go to gain power over another individual in order to enhance your position in a company, social setting, or even a relationship? The answer to this and many more ethical questions lie within every individuals mind and hart. So the next time you come in contact with someone who you feel has a powerful influence on your actions ask yourself; Do they have my intentions in mind or their own?