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5 Qualities That Make up a Great Law Firm Culture

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on January 04, 2016 1:12 PM

Imagine you're a midsized law firm with a bevy of fresh-faced talent ready at the helm. You're going to change the world. Then, a few years into the practice, everybody wants to leave -- including you. What went wrong?

Chances are it wasn't the work, it was the law firm culture of one-ups-manship, slave-like hours, and ego. That toxic mixture can wear anybody down. If you want to foster a work culture that attracts people and keeps them, you should follow a few tried and true tips.

1. People Oriented: It's a strange thing how the practice is ultimately about a service, and yet many lawyers can't even manage to handle successful communication when speaking with each other. If you're running a firm, a good amount of time should be invested in not only hiring the best, but also cultivating a firm culture that focuses less on numbers and more on people and their individual characteristics. Lawyers are people too, you know.

2. Direction: Nothing quite spells defeat like lack of preparation and lack of direction. Groups of people need, with varying degrees, to be directed and shown that the whole group is working toward a particular goal. This is, unfortunately, where law firms fail miserably. The usual law firm culture is one of jealous greed and brinksmanship. In fact larger firms encourage infighting. This is where there is a certain skill in selecting lawyers who will naturally work well with others. You want some assertive and some not so assertive lawyers. Either way, you want the best.

3. Talent: "The best" comes in all sorts of different shapes, sizes and colors. Today, you'd probably be hurting yourself in some fashion if you did not have at least a few minority attorneys on your team. Second languages are always a good business opportunity. In areas where technology is part of the social fabric, Mandarin Chinese and Hindi once dominated -- although Farsi and other middle eastern languages are gaining fast. Your firm should strive to maintain a diverse mix of people. This will also encourage comfort in the workplace.

4. Loyalty: This is another area where law firms don't do well by their associates. Law firm partners generally tend to watch out for each other pretty well. But it's the associates that get dumped on. Admittedly, the larger the firm, the harder it is to extirpate ego and backstabbing. But if those at the top make it clear to the associate that they appreciate their work, this will foster good-will and loyalty. With loyalty, your associate will go further in pursuing excellence because she will feel that she has actual emotional skin in the game. Loyalty is not fostered simply by a money bonus: that's a carrot-and-stick approach. Loyalty is fostered with money or paid time-off and a few personal words. Your firm should also de-emphasize billable hours.

5. Leadership: This is closely related to direction. Usually, there's only one person at the helm if the ship is going anywhere. Even though partners have equal say (under most circumstances), there's usually one person who stands, de facto, "first among equals." Hopefully this is because of real respect and admiration. Admiration and loyalty not only foster a strong cohesive environment, they also bring out excellence in your partners and associates. Leadership, in a word, can even be handled through excellent work ethic, professionalism, and stern yet friendly guidance.

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