As in all professional service businesses, the interrelationships among people working together in a law firm and the nature of how those people relate to their firm as an institution, differs dramatically among firms. These differences define and influence every aspect of law firms’ operations, reputations and financial success. The details of these interrelationships represent the organization’s culture.
Describing a law firm’s culture is difficult, even for people who know the organization intimately. When asked to describe a culture, people typically resort to words like “collegial” or “democratic.” While terms like this may convey a general sense of a culture, greater definition is necessary to begin to clearly differentiate various law firms’ cultures and use knowledge of those cultures to contribute to the management of the firms.
The Edge International Law Firm Cultural Assessment, is designed to recognize discrete differences among individual law firms and provide a more precise vocabulary to describe what those differences represent. Those differences can be categorized into four specific areas:
- Collegiality: The manner in which people within a law firm deal with each other.
- Strategic Focus: The degree to which the firm has a clear identity, both to itself and in relation to other firms.
- Governance: The manner in which the firm deals with it’s people, and the way that it’s lawyers and staff deal with the firm.
- Values: The belief systems that represent the collective aspirations of the members of the firm.
The cultural inventory is designed to identify specific charateristics of a law firm’s culture. By doing this, it is possible to anticipate the impact of those characteristics on the firm, its success and potential concerns related to certain types of activities including the integration of laterals and the ability to successfully merge.
The Law Firm Cultural Inventory involves an on-line questionaire that takes approximately 20 minutes to complete. The survey may be taken by an entire firm or a representative sample, recognizing that the number of participants impacts on the accuracy of the inventory. The results of the inventory are then tested in a series of focus groups with a cross section of members of the firm. The objective of these discussions is to both test the varactity of the survey data and to place it in a context of experience and examples within the firm.
The results of the Inventory are provided in a written report that includes a normative report and diagrams depicting the level of deviation of the firm from normative standards for similar law firms. Typically a presentation is made at either a live meeting or a recorded webinar for dissemination to the partnership and, often, the entire firm.
Details about law firm culture
Each of the factors involved in law firm culture is made up of a number of components, some of which are more complex than others. In fact, the comparative weight of these factors in the make-up of a culture becomes a feature of that culture. To measure this differentiation, we survey between five and seven of these manifestations for each factor as shown below. The mix of this data provides a valid image of a law firm’s culture.
- Group collaboration – the ability and willingness of groups (practice groups, offices, client service teams, etc.) to work together.
- Individual collaboration – the ability and willingness of individual lawyers to voluntarally work together on client matters.
- Egalitarianism – the willingness of lawyers to support actions of others that are in the best interest of a client or the firm but may not be in the lawyer’s immediate best interests.
- Social interaction – the degree to which firm lawyers seek out opportunities to participate together in social situations.
- Deviation – the degree to which behavior in violation of firm mores is accepted.
- Generationalism – the degree to which the firm’s value systems, approaches and vision differ according to age.
- Strategic Focus
- Vision – the importance placed on conveying a clear picture of the future.
- Horizon – the relative importance of short and long term implications in decision making.
- Ambition – the importance placed on maintaining and improving the firm’s reputation and recognition.
- Execution – the importance placed on meeting goals and fulfilling expectations.
- Self-image – the importance placed on having an accurate and positive perception of the way the firm is viewed by outsiders.
- Confidence – the confidence that members of the firm express as an institution in the accuracy of their vision and the correctness of their decisions.
- Decision making – the methods employed by the firm in reaching decisions.
- Structure – the degree of institutional involvement in the management of individual lawyers’ practices.
- Risk aversion – the firm’s willingness to accept risk in return for appropriate reward.
- Communications – the degree to which lawyers are informed about the firm’s activities and issues.
- Expectations – the degree to which lawyers and staff members have a clear understanding of what the firm expects from them.
- Motivation – the firm’s ability to influence behavior.
- Work ethic – the importance placed on how hard lawyers work in terms of time spent and hours produced.
- Meritocracy – the degree to which personal performance is rewarded in relation to overall firm performance.
- Responsibility – the level of control lawyers have over their client relationships.
- Client focus – the balance of the firm’s interests compared to client’s interests.
- Continuous improvement – the importance placed on the growth of lawyers’ knowledge and capabilities.
- Trust – the degree of confidence by an individual that peers will not take actions adverse to that individual’s interests.
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