Michael clayton as it represents systems theory
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“Michael Clayton” as it represents systems theory. Analysis of the movie. Exploring and evaluating the impact of systems theory. By Marla Smith. Introduction.

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Michael clayton as it represents systems theory

“Michael Clayton” as it represents systems theory

Analysis of the movie. Exploring and evaluating the impact of systems theory. By Marla Smith


This presentation explores the systems theory as it pertains to an organization portrayed in the movie “Michael Clayton” written and directed by Tony Gilroy and produced by Sydney Pollack. Concepts relating to the theory will be presented, including organizational structure.

Definition of systems theory
Definition of Systems Theory

Organization– human systems of cooperation and coordination assembled within identifiable boundaries to pursue shared goals or objectives.

  • “Systems theory provides a simple way to model organizations by focusing on the structure and relationships or interdependence among parts of the organization. A systems approach conveys the idea that organizations are made up of parts and that the parts interact with each other to accomplish the organization’s goals.” (Hodge, Anthony, & Gales, 2003)

Differentiation integration
Differentiation & Integration

Structure – the total sum of the ways in which an organization divides its labor into distinct tasks and then coordinates them.

  • Differentiation

    • Division of labor into tasks

    • Allocate tasks among workers

  • Integration

    • Involves the various means that organizations use to pull together highly differentiated tasks into cohesive output.

The organization
The Organization

The organizational charts show differentiation

The law firm’s differentiation complexity was highly vertical and highly horizontal

Clayton had informal reporting relationships, often feeling pulled in too many directions

  • Kender, Bach, and Ledeen – a Law Firm specializing in litigation. Employs upwards of 600 lawyers.

  • Partial Organizational Chart

Informal reporting relationship

Formal reporting relationship

Differentiation at the law firm
Differentiation at the law firm

  • Under the three senior partners were their own branches of litigation & teams (Kane, 2009)

    • Branches

      • Investigation, pleadings and discovery

      • Pre-trial, settlement and appeal

    • Teams

      • Senior Litigating Partner

      • Litigation Associates

      • Legal Assistants

      • Legal Secretaries

Integration of the law firm
Integration of the law firm

  • Each team worked with a client throughout the legal process. The many branches assisted the team in different parts of the process.

  • Michael Clayton worked in the Investigation Branch. He interviewed the client, assessed the situation, and referred the client to a team.

Integrating structure of firm
Integrating Structure of Firm

Stardardization at the Firm:

Process: Practice in seven areas of litigation process, accounting, human resources, public relations, and advertising

Inputs: Clients (U-North), employees, labor, financing

Outputs: Litigation services, responding to government agencies that tax and regulate business, dealing with unexpected events (Arthur stripping down naked and chasing a member of the client’s opposition).

  • Formalization - High

    • The firm had many formal rules, policies, and procedures in place, including contracts and agreements signed by employees.

  • Centralization – High Centralization

    • Decision making vested in top management.

  • Spans of Control – Narrow spans

  • Standardization: Process, Input, and Output (see side panel)

Nonstructural means for integration
Nonstructural Means for Integration

  • Liaison Roles – coordination and communication was necessary between each branch of the firm.

    • Clayton acted as the investigation liaison to the litigation team.

    • The senior litigation partner acted as a liaison for his team to all other branches.

  • Teams – employees and managers are organized into work and interunit teams in order to enhance communication, coordination, and control.

    • Each team represented clients throughout the legal process

  • Culture – composed of the informal and unwritten values, norms, and behavior patterns that are commonly accepted and observed by members of an organization.

    • Firm members shared a thick culture. Employees were expected to behave professionally and dressed in business wear.

  • Information Systems – The firm used e-mail, conference calling, and local area networks to perform business. Some information was classified according to hierarchy.

Goals and effectiveness
Goals and Effectiveness

Goals – statements that identify and endpoint or condition that an organization wishes to achieve.

  • Official Goals, or Mission Statements

    • Establishment of broad strategy, setting guiding principles

    • The law firm had a mission statement as a base for setting operative goals

  • Operative Goals

    • Specific actions to enact strategy, guiding divisions, or business units

    • The partners decided how the firm should be organized and set directives in place

  • Operational Goals

    • Individual jobs or tasks, guiding individuals’ behaviors

    • Each level of the organization had specific duties to perform that were integrated to conduct business

More on operative goals
More on Operative Goals

Ethical Principles are part of social responsibility and ethical behavior.

Ethical behavior = doing good

  • Market goals

  • Financial Performance Goals

  • Resource Goals

  • Innovation Goals

  • Productivity Goals

  • Management Development Goals

  • Employee Performance and Attitude

  • Social Responsibility and Ethical Behavior

Focus on social responsibility
Focus on Social Responsibility

The premise of the story revolved around the unethical behavior of the firm’s client U-North and its chief legal counsel Karen Crowder. The senior litigation partner, Arthur Edens, exclusively handling the settlement case found substantial information in regards to the health hazards caused by the chemicals of U-North’s product. Instead of continuing to argue the case for U-North, Arthur moves toward representing the opposition as he felt it was part of his social responsibility. He was about to present his evidence to the firm, but was victim of a hired hit by Ms. Crowder (unethical behavior).

The firm s response
The firm’s response

  • Senior partner Bach was informed of the information that U-North was hiding about cancer-causing chemicals (unethical behavior)

  • He informed Clayton to stay quiet because the news would force U-North to settle and it would ruin the planned merger of the firm with an organization in London (hidden agenda)

  • Ms. Crowder finds the information and encourages U-North to settle, while the firm feverishly makes an effort to complete the merger

Michael clayton s ethical decision
Michael Clayton’s ethical decision

  • Michael Clayton feels that concealing the information on U-North is unethical and sets out to expose U-North and Karen Crowder (social responsibility)

  • With the help of his brother who is a police detective, Clayton confronts Ms. Crowder (she thinks Clayton’s dead, because she ordered a hit on him too-what a surprise)

  • He gets her to confess that she knew about the hazardous chemicals and that she ordered the hits. She accepts his bribe for him to stay quiet (unethical behavior) and the police arrest her

Summary conclusion
Summary & Conclusion

  • The law firm in the movie was an example of a large organization, which could be differentiated and integrated as such

    • The firm had many people working in a structured environment producing output from input to obtain the goal of the organization (to be a successful and lucrative firm), a perfect example of systems theory

  • This movie portrayed hidden agendas, unethical behavior, and poor management of resources

    • Poor management of resources was evident where Bach demanded Edens get better in a unreasonable time frame and that Clayton and Edens do everything possible to correct Edens’ outburst.

    • When human resources started to experience problems, management ignored the problems in hopes the merger would be complete before everything fell apart.


  • I feel that the organizational structure was effective for this type of business, with the exception of the extent of Clayton’s informal reporting. However, because of hidden agendas, human resources were poorly managed and unethical behavior hurt the firm’s reputation. With the firm’s reputation soiled, large clients would bring their business elsewhere and the business would not be as lucrative, deterring the London firm from merging. No matter how well an organization is structured, unethical behavior can destroy it.


  • Gilroy, T. (Director). (2007). Michael Clayton [Motion Picture].

  • Hodge, B., Anthony, W. P., & Gales, L. M. (2003). Organization Theory (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

  • Kane, S. (2009, October 30). The Role of a Litigation Attorney. Retrieved May 9, 2010, from About.com: http://legalcareers.about.com/od/legalspecialties/a/litigationatto.htm