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From toxic wastelands to well-oiled machines, the legal workplace is a diverse ecosystem.

Trust can be a rare commodity and cooperation a distant dream. But fear not, only 10.1% of law firms have descended into this abyss.

On the bright side, 12.1% of firms operate as well-oiled machines, where the attorneys are in sync, ideas flow freely, and client relationships thrive.

BTI research, based on more than 1,000 responses to our workplace and attorney satisfaction survey, reveals 4 distinct cultures:

The Toxic Workplace

Trust is scarce. Attorneys keep their distance. Partners work together only if they have to — the same goes for associates — they don’t trust each other to help with work or share stresses and experiences. Partners resent firm interference with their clients. Fortunately, only 10.1% of firms receive this distinction from their attorneys.

The Well-Oiled Machine

At the other end of the spectrum — 12.1% excel with seamless collaboration and information sharing. Partners are in synch — so associates feel in synch.

You find ongoing information sharing about client, legal, and workplace issues — all serving to build attorney knowledge bases they can use in client work and business development. Attorneys offer up thoughts and ideas routinely — it’s part of the DNA.

The Machine

The largest group at 47.5% leans towards working together — but often needs a catalyst to make it happen. These catalysts include transactional work, large litigation, a partner seeking another out, pitches, and large client defections.

This group of firms has the building blocks to become a well-oiled machine.

The Siloed

30.3% report uneven cooperation. There is little in the way of active sharing between practice groups. Some attorneys in this cohort report being envious of the groups with more sharing than their own.

The Well-Oiled Machines enjoy the highest workplace satisfaction. BTI research suggests they enjoy fundamentally stronger client relationships as well. This is a clear benefit of idea sharing finding its way to clients.

All firms can boost workplace culture and sharing of ideas by implementing at least one of the following strategies:

Anonymous Attorney Survey

Give attorneys a voice. And give leadership feedback. Learn what and why your attorneys really think about the firm. Uncover unseen strengths and weaknesses. This is one of the few tools proven to immediately boost even the best workplace culture upon delivery — and again when you present the results.

This survey adds enduring value when leadership takes action on the weaknesses and leverages the strengths. N.B. — if it is not anonymous you won’t get the insight.

Formal Idea Sharing Sessions

Promote better ideas and stronger bonds. The more discussion the better the bonds. We recommend:

Idea circles — smaller formal groups to exchange ideas on what they see and hear. Meet in short sessions of 30 minutes or less. Discuss one or two ideas. Rotate the people who bring questions or ideas for the group to discuss.

Informal idea sharing — send an email once a month to all attorneys asking for the top issues in the market, in law, or other meaty topics. Limit response to three bullet points and share the list with all attorneys.

Client-issue Discussion Forums

Create small groups to discuss one client. Discuss all aspects of the client — from legal issues to business development to news. Discuss how to solve problems, develop new business and services, and what everyone knows about a specific client.

These sessions always reveal new insights, build bonds within the forum, and provide potent discussion topics with clients.

Leadership Partner in Charge of Workplace Development

Put a respected and influential partner in charge of developing the workplace. While every attorney is responsible — this leadership partner is accountable. Give this effort a budget and goals.

Some of these practices were the hallmark of a good law firm back in the day — when law firms were small, and the partners fit in one conference room. Large firms can embrace what was and add new elements to leverage their size and collective skills and knowledgebase. This will be part of the next wave of critical success factors in successfully developing the next generation law firm.

Best in the market ahead –


Start your idea sharing now — use the just-released BTI Litigation Outlook 2024 to spark discussion among litigators about business development, client needs, and where the firm is ranked by clients. Order Now.

You can also use the BTI Benchmarking Law Firm LinkedIn Performance 2023 to build support for each other — and the firm; ‘s LinkedIn presence as it overtakes websites as a client destination. Order here.

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