Have you ever stopped to think about why you love or loathe your legal work culture, or why it attracts or repels a certain type of person?
Retention and performance are fundamental to the success of any law firm and in-house legal function. It’s imperative to attract the right talent for the type of clients you have (and are keen to attract).
But is this the reality at your firm? The legal sector is steeped in tradition, which at times means it’s incredibly sluggish to adapt to the changing needs of clients and top legal talent.
Change has to run deep; wall art or a flash website isn’t enough. You risk repelling the people you need the most.
By the end of this blog, you’ll see the ways in which you may be drifting more and more into groundhog day, and what you need to do to avoid it! Listen to the Water+Air podcast here for more info.
Learn to recognise your company culture
First, let’s run a simple diagnostic to understand your current state of play: which of the following statements best describe your company culture:
1. Management by hierarchy
Your firm has strict hierarchies that are reflected in the workplace design. Workers are huddled up in bullpen-style open-floor plans (any corner offices with big windows are reserved only for bosses). This fixed structure is said to offer a clear line of command.
2. Management by numbers
Employees feel vulnerable to the constant threat or reality of downsizing and redundancy. There is no sense of job security or company loyalty. The leadership narrative is: “People should be grateful that they have a job. Why should we bother with team or employee engagement activities? You're here to work so just get on with it!”
3. Management by perks
In this environment, employees work on site and the office is designed to make work fun. Employers offer a multitude of generous perks, from free food to nap pods. The open-floor plans are designed to encourage collaboration and eliminate hierarchy; but, while the aim is to make the office fun, many of the workforce report working longer hours.
4. Compassionate management
There is a palpable focus on the wellbeing and personal satisfaction of employees. The company has a policy to ensure that employees feel cared about as human beings, not just as workers. Flexible working is a permanent feature. The firm willingly invests in wellness programmes and diversity and inclusion efforts.
Employers and employees are actively building a new, more dynamic relationship based on trust, empathy and compassion (this may prove challenging for those whose primary need is for certainty and who don’t know how to operate in such a free-flowing environment).
Questions to ponder
Which of those four options sounds like your place of work?
Which would you enjoy working in?
Do you think your team members would agree? If not, what would they say?
Do you think that one of those options is the BEST option?
Remember that good lawyers like to play the devil’s advocate. What if there isn’t a best one?
You need to attract the right people for your team, its needs and the needs of those it serves*.
*See this report for a more in depth analysis.
It’s possible that compassionate management (option 4) might be great for teams predominantly made up of self-motivated people who go the extra mile in the service of others. But diverse teams are made up of people with a range of different motivators and behaviours (I know this because when lawyers join Fuel+Move we start with understanding and enabling them to work in alignment with their intrinsic driving motivators).
Do you know what motivates your talented teams?
If you’ve collected a wealth of experience by working for a variety of organisations, you might notice that they were right for you at that particular time, but then as you evolved, your priorities likely changed.
For example, when I was in my 20s and 30s I worked for Nike, which provided a culture of maverick creativity and irreverence for convention. Happy days! Since then, we have both evolved, and whilst separation felt acutely unsettling at the time, it was what I needed.
As human beings, we thrive by developing, transitioning and transforming. The needs of people who grow and evolve, change.
It can often feel uncomfortable to see research suggesting that we need to adopt a specific style of leadership if that seems irreverent to your current clients, team members or people you hope to work with in the future.
Do you feel able to make choices that are counter-cultural to big data insights or influencer opinion? Sometimes data has the potential to pull us in the wrong direction. Are you willing to go against the grain?
Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (RIP) was invited to present at Google’s Silicon Valley campus in 2013.
His sage recommendation was this: “We have the feeling that we are overwhelmed by information. We don't need that much information.”
There’s a reason why he was known as the Father of Mindfulness! Take a moment now to pause and be present with who you are, and who your organisation is.
How would you feel about resisting the temptation to follow research data and interpretation? What if you focused on understanding your team and the personalised insights they have to share?
It’s time to dig deep and embrace authenticity! We don’t have to follow the flock!
Reflect on these questions to help you increase your awareness
Do you know who you are? Are you clear on your motivation and priorities? Are they authentically yours, or are you tethered to someone else’s idea of success? Free yourself to be part of a culture that fits you and your priorities, and that brings out the best in you and your team. If you’d like support to intercept the auto-pilot mode and get going, we’ll be glad to help set you (and your legal team) up for a better version of success).
If you were going to bring people in who stand out from everyone else in the firm, what would have to happen for them to feel like they belong? Belonging is not the same as fitting in! Is it time to break the conditioned thinking and behaviours that hold you in an endless loop of sameness and unlock the power of diversity and inclusion?
How would this culture-shift benefit your colleagues, clients and future employees?
If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while now, you’ll know that I’m passionate about how our ordinary everyday actions have the potential to create extraordinary outcomes.
By addressing the fundamentals of who we are and what we can do, we stop wasting time rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, and set ourselves up for a more rewarding career-lifestyle.
Here are three simple ways to help you do that:
Listen. Listen to yourself, to your people and what’s not being said (check out this blog for more on that!).
Create space in your day to get clear on who you are as an individual and as a collective working unit. Work authentically; be vigilant to outsmart the sneaky drift into someone else’s idea of success.
Be brave and bold and nurture culture and behaviours that bring out the best in you and your team. Remember that, what works for someone else or somewhere else might not work for you.
I’d LOVE to hear your takeaways from this blog.
What did you uncover about yourself or your place of work? Send me a message on LinkedIn, and as always, stand by for the next episode of the Water+Air podcast to help you create a legal career you love without burnout or self-sacrifice!
Parul is an experienced international lawyer, demanding client, disruptive consultant and thought-provoking non-executive director and board advisor.
She's advised law firms and big global brands like Nike, Speedo and Manchester United, as well as supporting inner-city social change programmes, startups and scale-ups. Fuel+Move is born of her passion to improve interaction with the legal sector and achieve a better experience with better outcomes for its stakeholders.
Parul Patel can be found here: