Edge International


Do You Understand your Firm’s DNA? What Are the Good and the Bad Bits?

Do You Understand your Firm’s DNA?  What Are the Good and the Bad Bits?

The DNA acronym is sometimes used with reference to the inherent characteristics of a firm or a part of the firm. Unlike the originating definition of DNA – an organic chemical of complex molecular structure which codes genetic information for transmission of inherited traits – which is fixed, the important thing about this loose use of the term “DNA” to describe firms is that it can, with effort, be adapted.

I find this quite a handy concept and tool in discussions with clients, particularly where I am trying to persuade them to adopt certain principles, systems or practices – or make them part of their DNA. A handy off-shoot is that people invariably “get it” right away. It seems to gel.

I use “DNA” quite loosely to describe the intrinsic workings of the heart and soul of an organisation – i.e., what really makes it tick or, perhaps, not tick; what helps it succeed or not.

When something good truly becomes part of your DNA, it happens virtually automatically and becomes the way things are done with little or no leadership or management intervention. In this sense it is closely linked to culture (“how we do things around here”) but I like to distinguish between them, as culture, coupled with leadership, really determines whether some things become part of your DNA or not.

This DNA concept is important and has significant ramifications for every law firm. This is because what comprises your DNA will determine your success, failure or mediocrity.

Bearing mind that a firm’s DNA can comprise good and bad bits, let us consider briefly some of the advantages of making certain principles, structures, practices and so on positive parts of your DNA:

On the other side of the coin, what are some of the disadvantages of having less good things as part of your firm’s DNA? Every firm has these “bad bits”:

What are some of the really important things you should try to make part of your firm’s DNA? Obviously, this will differ from firm to firm and jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but here are some examples that should apply to most firms:

What are the things you don’t want as part of your DNA?

I hope this article prompts you to do an exercise whereby you try to identify the DNA of your firm. Be brutally honest about the good things and also about the not-so-good things. This exercise can form a powerful starting point to planning the future you want for your firm.