It’s all about the culture

For recruitment consultancies, January has typically heralded a surge in demand for new jobs. It may be an unrecognised subconscious connection with those feelings of starting the new year fresh, full of hope and possibilities, or it might just be that the new year is synonymous with making a change. Either way, if you’re feeling restless you’re not alone. 

The news is full of stories on the “great attrition”- and not just in legal services, but across a wide variety of sectors. The experience of working remotely during the pandemic has led many to question their life and their career choices. 

Starting salaries at City law firms have begun to hit the £150K mark, and more experienced lawyers are now tempted by the flexibility and financial rewards that consultancy model firms promise. Others, meanwhile, have simply realised that there is life outside of the law, and have decided to change careers.

It certainly is a crowded and competitive market space for law firms hoping to attract high calibre talent whilst retaining their best lawyers.

Keeping talent is imperative to business success. Whilst reputation and remuneration clearly carry weight, more than ever before, the “culture” of a firm has come to influence the choices made by candidates. 

Naturally, this requires building a transparent, open, and supportive environment. An environment where individuals feel encouraged to fulfil their potential, within a culture that champions the importance of receiving relevant training and feedback on performance in a way that allies an employee’s career progression with clearly defined competencies. 

It can be tricky to get this right, especially in a high-pressure environment where lawyers are preoccupied with meeting client demands. Practices designed to improve a firm’s culture can easily drop down the priority list for busy partners. 

Who is responsible for your firm’s culture? 

The culture of a law firm doesn’t just rest with the managing partner, all partners have a responsibility to nurture culture, and the true culture of any business will only ever reflect the personal values of the people working in it. Culture is a collective, firm-wide, responsibility. 

Allowing behaviours that don’t reflect the desired culture- by letting things slide, for example, or making exceptions- will create negative feelings amongst colleagues and quickly erode a culture. Communicating the firm’s values is essential, it’s the best way for a firm to define how it expects employees to behave, and it provides a framework against which decisions can be made each day. 

Creating a positive law firm culture gives employees a purpose and incentive to work towards common goals, so it is critical that firms employ the right people in the first place. Experience and skills are essential qualities, but firms need to ensure that new hires fit in with the firm’s vision and values. Lawyers who don’t share the common values of the firm will negatively impact on its culture; they are unlikely to have a good relationship with co-workers and will not foster productive client relationships. In the race to acquire new talent, it is tempting to cut corners in the recruitment process but observing how a potential new hire interacts with existing employees will provide insight into whether or not that person will be a good cultural fit. Diversity and inclusion should be at the very heart of how all firms recruit, operate, and do business.

How do we encourage a strong culture? 

Having a healthy work life balance encourages and supports a good culture. Employees who are overworked will not feel valued or appreciated. The continued obsession with billable hours instead of alternative pricing strategies, means that many lawyers are super focused on achieving billable hours targets. This is leading to burnout, depression, and addictions. It’s irresponsible to ignore this.

To achieve a better working environment progressive firms have moved away from traditional structures and are now offering a four-day week, or hybrid working, whilst others are allowing lawyers to structure more flexible work schedules to meet their individual needs. These approaches can boost trust, mental wellbeing, and employee loyalty. Despite all this effort, some lawyers will still decide to leave a firm, or even the profession.

Why are we losing lawyers?

Lawyers are questioning their choice of law as a career, disillusioned by the unglamourous reality of being in practice. Sadly, many feel trapped by money and status even if they no longer feel that they are on the right path. 

Knowing how to reframe their legal experience and utilise transferrable and highly prized skills is liberating for lawyers. There are plenty of employers who value hard work, diligence, critical thinking, tactical problem solving and thinking strategically. I haven’t coached a lawyer yet who having made the life changing decision to switch careers has regretted it, most wished that they had done it much sooner. If you have employees who you know are miserable, it is kinder to help them consider alternatives to law than to try to hold on to them. 

Of course, others may choose to leave for personal lifestyle reasons, such as childcare, health or retirement, but to lose talented individuals due to a firm’s culture is a costly and avoidable mistake.

Firms that shift their focus from generating profits and concentrate on employees as a driver of performance, will see success. Such firms will find that they have happier, engaged, and more productive employees, who are enabled to thrive and develop. In return, the firm will become more profitable, with a strong culture that attracts and retains its talented lawyers. 

Kimberley Williams

©Williams Wroe


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