Cultivating a positive culture at your law firm can help you retain top talent, inspire higher levels of engagement and productivity, and enhance your business outcomes. It can also bolster your reputation among ambitious recruits and potential clients.
On the other hand, a toxic law firm culture may cause your associates to jump ship for better job opportunities. The resulting turnover and tarnish to your reputation may hamper your law firm’s growth.
So, how can you develop a strong law firm culture? In this article, we’ll explain what attorneys value most when it comes to law firm culture. We’ll also provide some best practices to align your law firm culture with these priorities.
The Evolution of Law Firm Culture
A law firm’s culture encompasses its social norms, core values, work policies and practices, communication styles, and overall atmosphere.
Historically, big law firms have promoted a culture of superhuman expectation, encouraging their lawyers to maximize their billable hours at the expense of their well-being. However, the COVID-19 pandemic incited cultural change in the legal field, along with many other industries.
With the return to work, many lawyers have rejected pressure to “bill their lives away” to the point of burnout.1 Not only do these lawyers want to live fuller lives, but they also want their workplaces to reflect modern values and innovations. With these changes in mind, prestigious law firms can stay competitive in the job market by:
- Honoring their employees’ well-being – One in five lawyers left their jobs in 2022 in pursuit of better work-life balance.2 Thus, if you want to keep your lawyers at your firm long-term, offering competitive compensation alone won’t cut it—you must also provide your lawyers with a work schedule that leaves room for their personal lives and other initiatives that enhance their mental and physical well-being. Improved employee satisfaction allows law firm associates to pursue their careers without making unsustainable sacrifices.
- Facilitating professional development – Ambitious attorneys crave opportunities to advance their skill sets and elevate their career trajectories. By making advancement opportunities for lawyers a cornerstone of your company culture, your law firm can nurture young attorneys’ skills and strengthen your workforce.
- Offering positive acknowledgment – All attorneys, from junior associates to experienced law partners, want to feel valued for their contributions. Positive feedback can reinforce your lawyers' loyalty to your firm and increase retention.
- Investing in technical advancements – Law firm technology has the potential to transform tedious processes, freeing up associates’ time to focus on more valuable tasks. As a result, upgrading outdated systems can help your law firm foster increased productivity.
Assessing Your Current Culture To Reaffirm or Revise It
Now that you know a few key areas to optimize within your law firm culture, you can start the process. The first step? Auditing your current workplace culture to see how it stacks up.
Here’s how you can conduct a comprehensive cultural audit:
- Pinpoint your law firm’s strengths and weaknesses – First, you need to define your company culture as it is right now. You can do so by evaluating internal policies and unspoken practices, observing day-to-day operations, mapping out decision-making processes, and examining senior partners’ influence on the rest of the firm. From there, identify which elements align with or hinder the health of your law firm culture.
- Request employee feedback – Your observations can only paint a partial picture of your law firm’s culture. You can flesh out this picture by asking your employees about their experiences through anonymous surveys or in-person interviews.
- Compare your law firm to industry standards – While you may be hyper-focused on your law firm, the truth is that many of your associates will consider other firm’s offers throughout their careers. Thus, you must know how your law firm’s culture compares to competitors. You can glean these insights by researching other law firms and networking with their teams.
Once your audit is complete, you can begin addressing your law firm’s weaknesses and bolstering its strengths.
Crafting a Culture Strategy for a More Positive Work Environment
Once you have a lay of the land, it’s time to put your insights into action. Here are ten tips you can employ to foster a healthier work environment:
- Set clear key performance indicators – Define what you want to achieve with your cultural improvements. For example, maybe you want to lower your turnover rate, attract higher-tier talent, or boost your productivity.
- Clarify your law firm’s core values – No two law firms are the same. As such, you should define your law firm’s unique values while determining your applicants’ most pressing priorities. It’s helpful to socialize the firm’s core values and cultural ambitions internally and via social media. Whether it’s occasionally stating the firm’s continued commitment to these goals or sharing any updates or modifications to the same, it’s important for retaining and attracting attorney talent.
- Develop actionable improvement strategies – After considering your core values and areas of improvement, you can create specific strategies to align your law firm culture with your objectives.
- Enlist the support of leadership – Law firm culture is largely shaped by senior partners and other company leaders. If you want your cultural improvements to stick, you need to involve other law firm leaders and make sure they're on board with your objectives.
- Invest in DEI initiatives – You can nurture DEI at your law firm by conducting diversity-related outreach at law schools, actively recruiting from diverse talent pools, and offering continuing education programs.
- Prioritize work-life balance – Most lawyers want to have a life outside of work. You can enable a healthy work-life balance by reducing expectations that attorneys be available at all times, requiring them to take their yearly vacation, and subsidizing activities that support their health and well-being, such as counseling services, gym memberships, or mindfulness workshops.
- Allow for flexible work arrangements – Another way to improve your associates’ work-life balance is to offer flexible work arrangements, whether through hybrid work days, adjustable hours, or compressed work weeks.
- Offer plenty of professional development opportunities – With top-notch training and professional development, you can hone your lawyers’ leadership skills, client communication, and professional prowess. You might consider offering your associates the chance to participate in law firm mentorship programs, mock trials, legal workshops, and networking events.
- Reward achievements – Recognizing your associates’ achievements is a simple way to cultivate a great law firm culture. Not only can this help rewarded individuals feel valued, but it can also inspire other associates to strive for similar results.
- Don’t skimp on your tech infrastructure – The right technology can shave hours off of your associates’ work weeks and allow them to spend their time on more fulfilling activities.
Maximizing Employee Excellence
Senior lawyers often feel pressure to maintain the status quo with respect to workplace expectations because that is how things have always been done in BigLaw. This pressure may cause these legal professionals to resist cultural change.
While resisting change is natural, it’s important to keep the benefits of improving your law firm culture top of mind. For a quick refresher, a positive law firm culture can enhance engagement, boost productivity, attract high-caliber applicants, and keep them on board for years to come.
In other words, the right cultural changes can enhance a law firm’s excellence and profitability,3 even though it may require senior lawyers to let go of their expectations to turn every associate into a billable-hour machine.
Attracting Top Talent Through Culture
Once you’ve elevated your law firm culture, you’ll likely have an easier time recruiting high-end associates. A positive company culture quickly sets prestigious law firms apart from their competitors.
Just take a look at these statistics about 2023 job seekers:4
- 88% claim that company culture is crucial for success.
- 86% avoid companies that have poor reputations.
- 77% evaluate a company's culture before applying.
- 56% rank a positive company culture above salary in terms of importance.
- 46% say that company culture can sway their job acceptance decision.
- 35% say they would pass on the “perfect job” if the company culture was a poor fit.
As you can see, refining your company culture can do wonders for your legal recruitment efforts. What’s more, nurturing a law firm culture that attracts top talent can increase your revenues by up to 33%.
Strengthen Your Law Firm Culture with E.P. Dine
The importance of law firm culture can’t be overstated. In today’s legal landscape, a winning law firm culture is the key to lasting success. Once you’ve improved your company culture, you can fill out your team with associates who align with your cultural values.
Need help with your recruiting efforts? As a leading legal recruitment company with over 50 years of experience, E.P. Dine can use our expansive market expertise to help you find and retain high-quality candidates that are ideal cultural fits.
Contact our team of legal recruiters today to learn more about our services.
1ABA Journal. How young attorneys are shaking up law firm culture.
2ABA Journal. Diversity in Law: Who Cares?
3Gallup. Company Culture: Private Equity's Intangible Value Creation Lever.
4Zippia. 25+ Essential Company Culture Statistics : Why is Company Culture Important?
At E.P. Dine, we are committed to delivering content that is not only relevant and insightful but also rooted in professional integrity and expertise. To achieve this, every article published on the E.P. Dine blog undergoes a meticulous review process by qualified professionals with deep knowledge and experience in the legal field and legal recruitment.