Imagine the ideal team of attorneys. They’re experienced perfectionists, fiercely competitive with a keen eye for detail. They avoid taking risks that might put clients or the firm in a difficult position down the road. They log long, quiet, door-closed hours in their offices, racking up billable hours in droves, delegating fundamental tasks to associates and assistants. Happy hour invitations and birthday lunches probably go unanswered, unless there’s a high-profile client involved. They maximize results in meetings, skipping small talk and niceties in favor of setting case strategy and assigning next steps. They’re perfect attorneys, there’s just one problem: they struggle to contribute to a law firm’s culture and growth.
For many law firms, having the best attorneys rarely correlates with having a great culture. Along with the stress and long hours that can be expected in the profession, personalities, egos, intense competition and bad managerial habits often create a toxic working environment. Risk-aversion and and a tendency toward introversion, while helpful when dealing with casework and contracts, stifles propensity for innovation and leaves little time for cultivating relationships that could turn into new business opportunities. What can firms do when the traits that make a productive attorney are the same tendencies that could sink office culture and sabotage its long-term growth?
While it may not be a simple process, cultural improvements and an openness to innovation can open the door to new opportunities for any organization, including legal. Below, we’ve highlighted a few firms taking proactive measures to address common problems to create more a connected team and drive new business opportunities:
1. Get the office environment right.
Refreshed office space improved collaboration at Graydon Head & Ritchey LLP: On a recent episode of the eX Podcast, Paul Darwish, Chief Business Development Officer & Director of Marketing, explained how changes to physical space improved culture during their rebranding process at Cincinnati-based Graydon Head & Ritchey. “The space has had a profound impact on our people,” Darwish said. “It’s got lots of natural light, it’s got lots of space for collaboration. We see a lot more of one another, and there’s more informal water cooler talk. The transformation has been profound, and that has to do mostly with the space... We have an open space for entertainment and collaboration, and are now able to put our clients front and center.”
2. Use technology to surface skills and connect teams.
New technology created connections across multiple offices at Ice Miller: Staying on top of legal and business changes is an important part of Indianapolis-based Ice Miller’s service. Seasoned partners pass their knowledge and perspective to associates to ensure clients receive quality legal advice and counsel. Implementing Structural’s Employee Success Management platform allowed attorneys to connect across locations and across practice groups to ensure the right attorneys with the right skills are identified for each client project. The ability to search and filter based on experience, skills, language, and expertise helps Ice Miller retain referrals and new business opportunities. Structural also provides a way for leadership to connect with attorneys at every level and location.
“After more than 100 years our commitment to providing personal service and valued legal counsel to our clients hasn’t changed. Structural cultivates the types of relationships within the firm that benefit all of our clients.”
- Ice Miller LLP
3. Foster a culture of transparency and inclusion.
Focus on feedback and inclusion made O’Melveny & Myers LLP #1: Ranked top U.S. Law Firm for Culture in 2018 by Vault.com, O’Melveny & Myers LLP has created a winning culture, due in part to breaking down traditional barriers between junior associates and senior attorneys, and embracing critical new technology. According to the Chambers Associate Inside View, associates felt that the firm “doesn't want a hierarchical barrier between partners and associates.” By listening to the entire team, the firm has earned recognition from employees and industry publications for their proactive efforts to create a positive culture that adds value to the firm. The firm’s openness to new ideas and innovation allowed it to cut costs, even as they renovated office space and increased attorney compensation. From 2016 to 2017, O’Melveny’s income grew by 14% and the firm achieved its highest-ever revenue per lawyer.
Law firms cannot ignore changing demands from new attorneys and senior staff when it comes to improving culture and driving growth. From workspace improvements, to more effective technology, to creating transparency, firms that consciously drive culture will inspire innovation and create new avenues for growth.