Advice from legal-sector experts on creating a high-performance culture in your law firm

Based on the insights from 20 legal experts, we’ve collated the best practices and advice for building a high-performing culture at your law firm.

During our Build Better Habits webinar series, we interviewed practice management specialists, law firm leaders, and legal tech experts to uncover what it takes to run effective teams. We’ve taken the expert advice from industry leaders at ILFM, LPM, InfoTrack, The CS Partnership and many more to distil the top five best practices for building high-performing teams and an effective law firm culture.

How to create high-performing legal teams: 5 best practices from experts across the legal sector

Hire employees that align with your core values

Hiring employees who are aligned with the firm’s values increases the chances of building a team who are pulling in the same direction and possess the behaviours and attitudes needed for success. Not only does that help to build a high-performing team, but it also improves the team’s sense of purpose and belonging, which improves loyalty and retention rates.

Joanna Gaudoin, Director at Inside Out Image, highlights how important it is to hire new individuals who align with the values of the law firm in order to protect the culture: “Firms have to make sure people feel part of the culture, [this] helps increase loyalty to the organisation.”

John Wallace, Managing Director at Ridgemont explains that for his firm, creativity is a core value, so he focuses on that attribute during the hiring process: “It comes down to recruitment. So, looking at the profile of an individual that you’re recruiting and whether they’re open and willing to learn… having creativity as very high up in what we’re looking for within individuals. As much as [their] advice or experience.”

Watch episode 5 of our Build Better Habits series and discover how law firms can implement a culture of creativity and innovation to remain competitive >

Encourage open communication

A high-performance team requires individuals to feel safe and empowered to share their ideas. Tim Kidd, CEO at ILFM shares that eliminating fear should be a firm’s priority for an effective culture: “Fear in a workplace is just awful. There’s a huge difference between respect and fear. To eliminate fear is an empowering thing for a workplace.”

Eliminating fear allows staff members to feel more confident to contribute and connected with the culture. Leah Steele, Owner of Searching for Serenity says: “There is a history of law firms having toxic cultures… So we have to swing the pendulum further to make psychological safety a norm.

“When we’re talking about talent [and] retaining employees, we need to get comfortable with being a little bit more vulnerable [and] more transparent in order to shift our expectations.”

A crucial attribute of a high-performing team is open and honest communication across the entire business. Leah Steele believes: “For me, the empower employee mindset is about unlocking the traditional hierarchy structure that says the person at the top knows more, and instead widening it out to say, ‘what do we all know?’… We can get a much richer source of information that way.”

By encouraging employees to share and contribute – no matter if the feedback is positive or negative – increases the opportunity for continuous improvement. It enables teams to hold colleagues accountable for working towards the common goal.

Incorporate a digital-first mindset

“Being a digital first company means utilising the tech to help you run your business more efficiently, to streamline your processes, to enhance productivity, and to stay ahead of [the] competition.” explained by Cecile Papin, Partner Lead at Coadjute, who believes that investing in the right digital tools is how to create a high-performance law firm.

Empowering employees with the right digital tools enables teams to work efficiently and consistently, whilst decreasing human error. Laurance Sutton, Practice Manager at Brevitts highlights that: “When you automate, prescribe, and pre-supervise processes to enable standardised operations you reduce mistakes. Digitalisation has improved the quality of our standards.” Legal tech helps a firm perfect the daily basics, freeing people up to continuously improve and innovate operations or look for opportunities to grow and expand.

A digital-first mindset ultimately provides flexibility and adaptability. This applies to tackling business challenges, but also to your workforce. Building autonomous teams that can work effectively in a way that suits them will improve performance long-term.

Watch episode 1 of our Build Better Habits series and learn how modern law firms can remain competitive with a digital operational strategy >

Focus on the client experience

Having a client-focused mindset helps to ensure you’re delivering a service that exceeds client expectations. A high-performance legal team will be united by the client’s needs.

Gabriel Santos, Sales Manager from InfoTrack emphasises the importance of documenting how the firm will service their clients: “The first thing to do is to have a hard look at ourselves and see whether what we’re doing is right for the client and that’s documented. [You need to] set up and abide into some agreement to how you’re going to service your clients. Call it a communication SLA if you like.”

Regularly gaining feedback from clients determines the behaviours and habits set out in the SLA. Co-CEO of LPM, Rupert Collins-White also recommends understanding what your clients’ expectations are by looking at other service industries: “You need to benchmark your service against what else your client is experiencing. You could ask your clients to name a really good customer experience they’ve had and use that to shape the experience you deliver.”

Building a high-performance firm requires a culture that empathises with the client and strives to continuously improve to exceed expectations. That wins more five-star reviews, recommendations, and loyal clients.

Watch episode 2 of our Build Better Habits series and discover how law firms can better manage client communications and expectations >

Provide employees time to reflect and learn

A well-trained and confident team naturally leads to a higher-performing firm that makes the most out of the systems and tech available. Tim Kidd mentions how upskilling is invaluable to achieve this: “We encourage members to concentrate on training and qualifications, because knowledge will lead to improved confidence, and people with confidence perform their jobs better.”

Prioritising time to better utilise the tech available will help to reduce time spent on manual admin and free up time to expand learning in other areas. Alex Simons, New Business Manager at The Law Factory recommends firms should: “Take the time to learn the capabilities and take advantage of training, which is free for Osprey users. That way you can make sure you’re using what you’re paying for every month.”

With the tech tools taking care of admin tasks, the team have more time to reflect and learn. John Wallace shares how he prioritises learning in his firm: “We give the whole team, whether they’re fee earners or non-fee earners, access to a business coach. All [of] our team are reading great business books, watching online courses, and have access to a coach so that they will understand how [the] business works.”

If the focus on continuous learning is embedded into the culture of the firm, it provides individuals with improved skills and greater confidence. This empowers employees to contribute to the firm’s success, leading to a higher-performing, engaged team.

Empowering employees builds high-performing legal teams

Fostering a supportive, honest, and dynamic workplace culture that is aligned with your firm’s values helps to boost performance, loyalty, and engagement. If your goal is to improve the long-term success of your firm, the first place to start is with your people and cultural values, and the financial successes will follow.

However, cultural changes don’t happen overnight; it requires small tweaks and improvements over time. Sarah Keegan, Co-Owner of The CS Partnership highlights: “It’s about the little changes; the one percent improvements continually repeated will bring change.” Firms that are self-aware of their habits and behaviours and proactively review and adapt are the firms that have high-performing teams and outperform the competition.

For more valuable insights and industry knowledge on running a successful modern law firm, hear from experts across the legal sector in our Build Better Habits webinar series. Hear from over 30 experts across 10 episodes where we discuss solutions to the top operational challenges faced by SME law firms. Watch the full Build Better Habits series on-demand for free now.