Skip to main content

Culture can and does drive success in a law firm.

Most firms rely on unwritten rules and past behaviors to define their culture. This approach embraces inertia and creates barriers to learning the culture, never mind thriving in it. Building improved culture is rarely a topic of discussion.

As one AmLaw 50 firm chair lamented: “We always prided ourselves on hiring ‘the best people’ and the culture would take care of itself. Instead, we have a culture collage — lots of thoughts about what it is and should be — but little action. It’s now a talent retention issue so it’s bubbling up to the top fast.”

4 Attitudes Towards Culture

Our recent survey of 200 law firm leaders conducted with Patrick McKenna reveals approaches to culture fall into 4 widely different mindsets:

Progressive firm leaders — at 34% — are realizing success in the market and talent requires rewriting the unwritten rules to foster an intentional, high-performance culture

Forward-looking leaders — 24% — believe driving growth helps set the stage for an improved culture and more growth. They are betting growth drives a high-performing culture

Otherwise engaged leaders also at 24% — are focusing on lateral recruitment as their top priority. As one leader says “I can fix culture later I need the right talent in place to drive the culture”

Another 7% are simply not worried about it — they are looking for merger partners or big events to redefine their culture

Flipping the Script on Culture

You can build a more strategic and intentional culture now. We recommend starting by:

Making culture discussion routine. Take 10 minutes at every practice group meeting to discuss cultural norms. Separate myth from reality and pinpoint the norms helping the most.

Redefine comp to support the high-performing cultures you want. Most firms have enough flexibility in comp to achieve their lateral recruitment goals — now it’s time to apply this flexibility to support cultural goals.

Celebrate small and big wins supporting the targeted cultural norms. Most firms don’t openly celebrate wins — cultural wins deserve dedicated air time and recognition. Celebrations bring these behaviors into firm norms.

Set behavioral metrics. Lay out activities to support your intended culture, for example: client service, associate satisfaction, partner satisfaction, realization rates, and inbound leads.

The Firm Leaders Role

A progressive firm chair shared an impactful perspective: “I used to think my role was about creating a strategic vision then cheerleading people to get on board. I’ve realized nothing really changes until I rewrite our cultural norms and change the ‘unwritten rules’. My behaviors have a much bigger voice than I ever thought.”

Culture is quickly becoming a proving ground for success. As with law firms’ strategies — leaders are making different bets — and we can all watch the winners take the lead.

Best in the market ahead.


Forwarded to you? Get your own copy every week! Subscribe below. 

Stay ahead of the market with BTI's latest research