Is 2023 the year you start to think more clearly about the culture you are creating at your firm?
When I started my career in legal services in the late 1990’s law firm culture was something amorphous that no one quite had a handle on.
Sometimes a prospective hire would ask – what is your law firm culture? And the answers would include such things as we get together every Friday afternoon for drinks in the boardroom. We work hard and play hard.
In truth, most firms had no real sense of what their culture was all about nor why it was worth spending time on this.
When misunderstood, culture becomes a blunt instrument for quashing diversity and inclusion at a law firm. “We like to hire people who fit our culture” becomes code for “we hire people who look and think like we do. Who share a similar worldview. Who went to the schools we went to. Who holidays in the same sorts of places we do.”
Conversely, when culture is understood and nurtured, it can become a source of tremendous energy across an organization.
What is law firm culture? The foundational values shared by members of a law firm help form its culture when these values shape decision-making, policies, compensation, service standards (and more).
Values are the ends you pursue. They are core principles. By way of example, my organization’s core values are integrity, transparency, confidentiality, helping, growth, and inclusivity.
Values take time to form and root in an organization. Aspirational values are those we aim for. A firm might aspire to be inclusive and will invest time, energy, and resources in making this a lived value at the firm.
Values and law firm culture are not top-down. They are shared among the members of the organization.
Values are meaningless unless acted on. Culture takes shape by weaving values into all aspects of the law firm.
In the 2018 article “The Leaders Guide to Corporate Culture”, culture is defined as “the tacit social order of an organization: It shapes attitudes and behaviors in wide-ranging and durable ways. Cultural norms define what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted, or rejected within a group. When properly aligned with personal values, drives, and needs, culture can unleash tremendous amounts of energy toward a shared purpose and foster an organization’s capacity to thrive.”(https://hbr.org/2018/01/the-leaders-guide-to-corporate-culture)
Peter Drucker, a management consultant, famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.“ and I disagree. Culture and strategy are equal partners in a flourishing law firm.
A firm’s strategy sets out goals and the means for reaching them. Culture motivates and empowers members of the firm to carry out a firm’s strategic plan.
Culture also contributes to retention and differentiates your firm from that law firm across the street.
We need more strong law firm cultures.
The absence of care and attention to nurturing flourishing cultures has left a vacuum in which the billable hour, targets, and money dominate, obscuring other meaning-giving values.
The result has been the departure from the profession of talented, capable lawyers and widespread burnout.
Prosperity is one core value. When it is balanced with other core values such as caring, integrity, inclusion, and service, a law firm culture emerges, giving meaning to work life at the firm.
The time has come to become intentional about the values you aspire to at your law firm as the foundation for the culture you are building.
Culture building is a crucial action to take to establish a flourishing law firm.