As an attorney, you likely know that your law firm’s culture is essential to the firm’s success.
But what does that really mean? And what are some things you can do to create an environment where people want to work and feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves?
Keep reading to learn about law firm culture and discover seven strategies to help you build a great law firm culture successfully today.
It All Starts With a Vision
As with any business, a law firm needs to have a clearly defined vision statement. Your vision statement states your law firm’s current and future objectives. Think of it as a map or an outline that can be used in all aspects of your practice – from hiring to marketing and beyond.
As you make important decisions about your law firm and practice, you can rely on your vision statement as support and guidance along the way. Having that foundation in place can help you be more successful in not only building a solid business, but help you put all of the right pieces into place to create a great workplace culture.
Creating a positive law firm culture gives employees a purpose and incentive to work toward common goals.
Creating a Vision Statement That Will Frame Your Law Firm’s Culture
When creating a vision statement, don’t place limits on your ideal dreams for your law firm. Instead, allow yourself to explore possibilities that you might not have considered when you first opened your practice. Write down all ideas, and then edit your list to items that you believe are achievable and realistic.
A few of the things that you might want to consider to help you with your “ideal” list for your law firm include:
- Where do you want your law firm to be in 5, 10, 15, and 20 years?
- Services that you want to provide to your clients
- The perfect client for your law firm
- What do you want your law firm to be known for in the community?
- How do you see your role in your law firm?
- The financial goals for your law practice
- Why do you want to practice law?
- Your ideal work environment
- The types of employees you want to attract and hire
- The qualities that will make clients hire your law firm instead of another attorney
When writing a vision statement, be specific. Your mission statement should include keywords that describe your desire for the firm’s culture.
Use the word “we” when writing a vision statement. Employees need to understand and relate to the vision statement to feel motivated to do their best and work hard toward a common goal.
If you have partners, each lawyer should work individually on the initial stages of creating a vision statement. Then, after each lawyer has created their concept for a vision statement, you can work together to blend your personal vision statements into a unified, firmwide vision statement.
Tips & Strategies For Fostering a Positive Law Firm Culture
After defining the vision statement for your law firm, you need to take steps to create the culture that you want for your employees and clients.
1. Hire the Right Employees for Your Law Firm
Skills, education, and experience are essential qualities for law firm employees. However, you also need to ensure that your employees are the right fit for your firm in terms of your vision and values. To attract individuals that will embrace and reflect your firm’s culture, be sure your job post highlights your firm’s culture and values.
Employees that are pessimistic and lack the true passion to assist people in need will negatively impact your law firm’s work culture. There’s a good chance that they won’t get along with co-workers and won’t foster a productive and positive client relationship.
Interviewing potential employees is a skill. It is easy to determine a candidate’s qualifications from reviewing a resume and checking references. However, the interview is where you learn more about the person’s personality and work ethic.
You may want to conduct initial interviews with the senior lawyers and have follow-up interviews with several staff members. In addition, observing how a person interacts with potential co-workers can give you a better idea of whether or not that person will be a good fit with your law firm’s values and culture.
2. Educate Staff Members About Your Values
Having values for your law firm defines the type of environment and law practice you desire for your employees and staff members. However, if you don’t communicate those values to your staff members, they cannot make decisions that line up with those values.
Holding team-building meetings is one way to reinforce the values of your law firm. Brainstorm about ways that employees contribute to the overall goals and values of the firm. Discuss how employees can implement the values into the decisions that they make each day.
3. Create Measures and Rewards
Look at the core values of your law firm and develop ways to measure and reward employees who contribute to or exemplify those core values. For example, if one of your law firm’s goals is to give back to the community, recognize and reward employees who participate in volunteer projects.
Ideally, the employees you hire find personal rewards in sharing the values of the law firm. However, rewarding behaviors that you want your law firm to project boosts morale and helps support the foundation for the law firm culture you desire.
4. Be Consistent in Your Management Style
The culture of your law firm rests with the managing partners or the owner. Allowing behaviors that don’t promote the culture you want for your law firm erodes that culture. Letting things slide and making exceptions can create negative feelings among co-workers. Everyone in the firm notices when decisions are not in line with the vision and mission statements for the firm.
Management skills that promote a positive law firm culture include:
- Collaboration – Be willing to recognize the contributions of other team members to the outcome of a case or problem.
- Integrity – Truthfulness, honesty, and strong moral and ethical principles are traits that are valued and emulated by others under your leadership.
- Assertiveness – The right amount of assertiveness commands respect and gives employees a leader they want to follow. However, too much assertiveness can result in being seen as a bully who alienates staff members.
- Effective Communication Skills – A good leader needs to be able to listen before making decisions. Leaders need to communicate effectively with people on numerous levels. Be authentic and sincere to gain respect and trust.
Reflect on the qualities you respect in leaders and the qualities that cause you to question a leader. Then, work on creating a management style that encompasses the qualities that you respect and trust.
5. Promote a Healthy Work-Life Balance
The values of the law firm should also apply to the employees. Having a healthy work-life balance encourages and supports a good culture. Employees who are overworked and underappreciated are not happy and fulfilled. They will leave the firm in search of a law firm where they are happy to go to work.
Supervisors and attorneys must ensure that work is completed. It can be frustrating when a person must be out because of an illness, sick child, or other personal matter – especially when you’re in the middle of a particularly complex or involved case. However, everyone has to miss work occasionally. Making room for an employee’s need to take care of personal matters promotes a strong sense of loyalty to the law firm and co-workers.
Lawyers in the firm also need a healthy work-life balance to maintain their emotional wellbeing and physical health.
Many lawyers are super-focused on billable hours and lose track of what it means to have a truly balanced schedule. Practicing law and managing a law firm can be stressful. Burnout can negatively impact your ability to manage your law practice and fulfill your vision statement successfully.
How can you encourage a beneficial work-life balance? Some firms have veered away from traditional law firm structures and embraced four-day workweeks. Others have attorneys and staff on alternating schedules, while some give their attorneys the ability to structure more flexible work schedules for themselves. Some studies show these approaches have helped to boost morale and job satisfaction.
Of course, the ability to make significant shifts like these may largely depend on your firm’s practice area(s).
6. Encourage Positive Relationships and Trust
We spend most of our waking hours at work. Our co-workers become our friends, support system, and partners in the trenches. It is crucial to be able to trust your co-workers to have your back, but we also need to like the people we work with each day.
Building a positive law firm culture begins with fostering positive relationships.
There are many ways a law firm can develop positive relationships between employees. For example, celebrate birthdays, promotions, weddings, babies, and other milestones in an employee’s life.
Cater office meetings and conferences at lunch or breakfast. Enjoy a change of scenery by taking employees to dinner or lunch outside of the office. Celebrate the victories of the law firm by circulating memos and emails.
Encourage employees to work together on non-legal projects, such as a group puzzle in the break room, a volunteer day at a women’s shelter, or hosting a Christmas party for underprivileged children.
7. Be Client-Centered
Ensure that everyone in the law firm understands that the top priority for the firm is the clients’ best interests. Today, clients expect and demand exceptional legal services. Customer service is as vital to many people as the results they wish to gain from a legal matter.
Your clients need to feel appreciated, welcomed, and valued from the first telephone call through the end of their case.
Staff members working on a case need to know everything about the case and the client.
Attorneys must be the example. If an attorney does not put forth the effort, staff members will follow the attorney’s lead. Don’t discuss or comment on a client’s personal traits. Even though a client may drive you crazy, don’t allow staff members to overhear you disparage or complain about a client. Instead, keep your comments about clients positive, so that your employees will respect the firm’s relationship with each client.
Establish Your Law Firm’s Culture Early
Law firms of all sizes should be aware of and find ways to improve their law firm’s culture. Many people view law firms as having structures and hierarchies that don’t promote positive work environments. They don’t value employees and view clients as cases instead of individuals.
The benefits of creating a positive and strong culture at a law firm include:
- Breaking the old stereo-types of law firms
- Lower absenteeism
- Increased morale
- Attracts top-level candidates for employment who are assessing multiple law firms
- Promotes effective and positive attorney-client relationships
- Increases motivation and productivity
- Promotes collaborative work
If your law firm’s culture is not what you desire, begin by identifying the root cause of the problem. Then, create a vision and mission statement for the firm and set an example for all staff members. A law firm’s good culture begins with the lawyers.