A “Be Yourself” Law Firm Culture
One of my favorite local lawyers to hear speak is David Greer, an old-school trial lawyer who recently the hit mark of 50 years in practice. He literally wrote the book on Dayton’s legal history. Dave recently spoke to the Dayton Bar’s Leadership Program participants and regaled them with tales about the lawyers who were around when he started practicing law in 1962. He focused on the lawyer’s personalities, each of them were very different and often quirky.
The take away from Dave’s talk was that each of these lawyers embraced their own personalities. Their individual personas drove much of their success. In other words, be yourself. This can and should still hold true today, especially when it comes to law firm culture.
I think it is fair to say that the cultures of many law firms tend to stifle individual personalities, regardless of the size of the firm. Maybe that is not fair. Or maybe it is? Whether it is misconceived self-importance or a fear of letting one’s guard down, a stiff and rigid mold is probably still the norm for most firms and is the source of many lawyer jokes (which are usually hilarious). And, don’t get me wrong, such a culture is fine, if it is in line with the firm’s goals and is necessary to better serve its clients.
The culture of a firm should be intentional. If the leadership of a firm recognizes that there are cultural challenges, whether through attrition, general unhappiness or quality of work product (among other issues), those folks need to lead the charge to make adjustments.
I would argue that firms should embrace the personalities of both lawyers and staff for strategic decision-making. If certain personalities do not reconcile with organizational goals, perhaps those folks should not be with the firm.
By recognizing and analyzing existing and ideal personalities for the firm, then the firm’s structure can be built or altered to maximize results. If firm leadership wants mindless drones to serve a limited purpose and are there to crank out work product and not otherwise contribute, that can be done.
On the other hand, if different personalities will be embraced to drive growth, innovation and change within the organization, creating a culture of inclusion and getting them in their ideal work setting is critical. Each person’s background and general nature (including, but not limited to, whether they are an introvert or extrovert) will dictate how they will be the most productive. Some people thrive in busy office settings, but others need solitude to focus and create great work product. This is why I believe there is a lot of value in virtual law firm settings where lawyers work in a distributed manner but have ways to interact meaningfully and to collaborate on client work.
Is it more of a challenge to create a dynamic, “be yourself” work environment? Probably. It breaks the mold and provides endless opportunities on how the structure can look. But, at the end of the day, if it serves clients better and creates more engaged and fulfilled lawyers, that is not a bad thing. In a time where emerging business models and new technology are hot topics, there are still many lessons to glean from those who came before us.