Strong Law Firm Culture: 5 Building Blocks

A strong, well-defined, articulated law firm culture is a competitive advantage and a differentiator.

A strong, well-defined, articulated law firm culture is a competitive advantage and a differentiator.

Law Firm Culture

A culture is unique to each law firm, as it stems from the people who work there and the clients. A strong, well-defined, articulated law firm culture is a competitive advantage and a differentiator. Taking the time to gather input from your entire law firm on what that culture is today, and what it should or could be, is crucial to high performance, productivity, and client focus. Putting your firm’s culture into words is difficult, but well worth the effort from the firm’s and the client’s perspective.

Culture is an important and valuable quality within, and across, work groups. Collaboration and open communication between management and employees leads to transparency, which in turn leads to all having a vested interest in the success of the business.  A strong culture also leads to an ideal work environment.  As such, generic terms don’t accurately define a firm’s culture, nor do they give specific points that serve as benchmarks for behavior, performance, productivity. Here are five components that we have found lead to a strong law firm culture.

Five Key Building Blocks of a Strong Law Firm Culture

1 – Core Values

Core values first have to be defined and communicated throughout the firm, so that each individual is aware of the components of the firm’s culture, and can participate in the conversations surrounding it. Discussion of core values within a firm is twofold — to obtain employee involvement and input on how to achieve the goals based on those values, and to link efforts, communication, and respect across groups within the firm.

People who share core values about their firm are able to work with purpose, and with greater productivity. It frees them to work independently and creatively, as they know the “why” behind the firm’s goals and objectives, and can proactively make decisions that reflect and support the core values.

A caution on core values — it is easy for a company to espouse a set of core values. We have found that core values don’t really mean much unless they cost you something. That’s where the rubber meets the road and hard decisions are made. Those decisions uncover a business’s true core values.

2 - Vision

Employees are empowered by a well-defined vision and roadmap. They are also more resilient, with a “we are in this together” mindset that helps to mitigate stress. When vision and culture are aligned, there is consistency. A roadmap gives a predictable path for a firm or individual to reach maximum potential and to enable new growth. Daily decisions can be checked against the firm’s stated vision, so that all are working along the same roadmap, with knowledge of the expectations and actionable objectives.

3 – Transparency

The vehicle for transparency is communication, both written and verbal. It provides the “why” behind a firm’s philosophy, rules, and expectations. Transparency is also a two-way street, with an opportunity for questions and input. It’s not simply being able to check the box next to “Yes, I sent an email with this year’s goals, vision, etc.” but a weekly or daily follow-up with “Here’s how it applies to XYZ …”, or a genuine discussion on how it could prevent “last week’s client debacle” in the future, or to showcase “yesterday’s attorney success” as firm culture in action. Everyone within the firm is able to do their best work because they have a view into, and across, the entire firm. Good leadership is approachable, accessible, and available to all within the firm.

4 – Happiness

Yes, happiness. People want to work and be around those they like and respect. A happy and motivated law firm is more efficient and productive, and can better weather the storms. Happiness leads to job satisfaction, which is the key predictor of job turnover.

In research referenced by The Happiness Advantage, it’s found that a positive brain is connected with increasing sales by 37%, productivity by 31%, and decreasing the negative effects of stress by 23%.

Internal Drivers: Focus on people’s strengths and lead with what is working, which helps to overcome weaknesses. Mentoring. Give up one hour a week to brainstorm solutions across groups. Send one email a week highlighting an employee’s action that reflected the stated culture. Start a meeting with recognition of a job well done. Write a thank you note for going above and beyond.

External Drivers: Community service either individually or as a group. Service for the greater good, both within the legal community and that of the city in which the law firm resides.

5 – Client Focus

It is just as important for employees and clients to fit and reflect the firm’s culture. It is difficult, means hard conversations, and acting with purpose when reviewing the client base or considering taking on a new client; however, a client that reflects the firm’s culture enables success on both sides. The entire firm contributes to total client satisfaction. Part of that is based on the actual work done for the client; however, it is also a perception of the balance of service, perceptions, and expectations. If a law firm culture is focused on the client, then their client base will reflect that stated component of their culture.

In an article on service, David Maister presented this formula in 1985:

“Service = Perceptions – Expectations” and said, “If you expect a certain level of service, and perceive the service reviewed to be higher, you are a satisfied client. If you perceive the same level as before, but expected higher, you are disappointed and, consequently, a dissatisfied client.” To ensure your view of client focus and service matches up with that of the clients, distribute an annual survey to your clients. Asking for their feedback, suggestions, and perceptions will provide equal amounts of positive reinforcement and eye-opening surprises. Constantly refine your client approach to address the surprises.

Final Thoughts on a Strong Law Firm Culture

You can’t see culture, like you can see the firm’s name on the wall, but you can see the impacts of defining and putting words to your law firm’s unique culture. Keeping that unique culture, and what it represents to your law firm in the forefront each day, means you will be able to quantify and measure the increases and successes in employee satisfaction and productivity, revenue, and client satisfaction.

For more about culture in the workplace, see these posts:

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The Culture Counts blog is a discussion of law firm culture and legal innovation, including topics such as effective leadership, employee engagement, workplace culture, ideal work environment, company core values, and workplace productivity.  

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About the Firm:

Klemchuk LLP is a litigation, intellectual property, transactional, and international business law firm dedicated to protecting innovation. The firm provides tailored legal solutions to industries including software, technology, retail, real estate, consumer goods, ecommerce, telecommunications, restaurant, energy, media, and professional services. The firm focuses on serving mid-market companies seeking long-term, value-added relationships with a law firm. Learn more about experiencing law practiced differently and our local counsel practice.

The firm publishes Intellectual Property Trends (latest developments in IP law), Conversations with Innovators (interviews with thought leaders), Leaders in Law (insights from law leaders), Culture Counts (thoughts on law firm culture and business), and Legal Insights (in-depth analysis of IP, litigation, and transactional law).

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