How your daily habits shape the culture of your law firm

It’s no longer just about what you deliver as a law firm, but how you deliver it. This has drawn the attention of many leaders to consider the effectiveness of their legal operations, an area of expertise that law firms have previously overlooked.

The success of any business comes down to mastering the basics; the fundamental processes and tasks that are crucial to running a smooth operation. This involves creating a solid foundation of processes and habits, supported by a digital foundation of tech and software, utilised by skilled and passionate people. The connection and relationship of processes, people, and tech is what ultimately effects the culture of a law firm.

Law firms can thrive or die on their culture and the legal sector has a notorious reputation of toxicity and outdated practices within firms, often leading to burnout or dissatisfaction of employees. 55% of legal sector staff said to have previously left a job due to a bad workplace culture and 50% said bad workplace culture had impacted their productivity according to a survey from Culture Shift. The culture of a firm impacts long-term success because it directly effects the ability to attract and retain talent and new clients; the experience of clients; the ability to stay compliant; its reputation; and its profitability.

Building the right culture in a law firm

A firm’s culture is how you do what you do in the workplace. It’s a combination of systems, mindsets, behaviours, and values that create experiences for employees and clients.

Your culture defines how decisions are made; how employees interact with each other and clients; how people are hired and promoted; and how individuals are recognised or celebrated. A thriving culture promotes teamwork, togetherness, and connectivity because everyone is working towards a common goal. Shared values and aligned goals provide a sense of purpose which foster a firm’s culture.

Company culture is important because it directly impacts upon the success of the firm. Key performance metrics such as employee retention, client satisfaction, profitability and innovation are all effected by the culture present in a company.

In a law firm this might involve a client-centric mindset, which means the firm offers a client portal and mobile apps to improve convenience for the client, and case updates are always sent immediately via templated emails, SMS texts, or push notifications.

Or if a law firm’s value is to empower employees, they may have a quarterly review meeting scheduled to enable staff to provide feedback and discuss ideas in a one-to-one setting, which is later discussed between management to help influence improvement.  

With the right values, systems, and behaviours in place, workplace culture can flourish, but the same can be said in reverse. If the behaviours of employees don’t reflect the firm’s value, the culture can quickly collapse and have negative effects on performance. A key element of success is leaders modelling the way. The culture isn’t just about words, it’s formed in people’s actions and so it’s important this is reflected in the actions of senior management and directors too.

The effects of daily habits and behaviours

Your daily habits define your firm’s personality, culture, and how you’re perceived by clients, prospects, and employees. Your employees’ business habits and behaviours need to align with the goals and values of the firm.

For habits to stick they need to align with a purpose. If your employees’ purpose is simply to increase billable time to earn more money, their actions will reflect that without consideration for client satisfaction or innovation.

Leaders need to decide what is important to them so the goals can be communicated to the team. For a modern law firm to succeed long-term they need to adopt these four mindsets: think digital-first, be client-focused, continuous improvement, and empower employees.

Your subsequent habits, processes, and systems then need to reflect those values to ensure you deliver on what you promise. This helps to shape the business decisions you make, the people you hire, and the technology you implement to help build a successful culture and operation within your firm.

The role of technology in facilitating effective habits

According to Briefing’s 2022 Frontiers Report, firms are threatened by peers with more tech-driven operational models, which is putting pressure on practices to advance their digital strategies to stay competitive. Firms of all sizes are aware of the benefits and opportunities tech can bring to the legal sector. It enables lawyers to do what they’re hired to do – lawyering, not endless unbillable admin. Utilising legal tech helps to reduce workload and therefore stress; it helps to increase billable hours and improve profitability whilst providing flexibility and freedom for employees, and much more besides.

It isn’t the decision to embrace tech that causes challenges within firms, but its implementation, adoption, and utilisation. Firms – and their clients – will never reap the rewards of any tech investment if no one is using it. But the adoption of tech is influenced by culture because it’ll determine where it’s encouraged, prioritised, or seen as a benefit.

The key to adopting any new process or system is to start with the basics. Identify how you currently complete fundamental tasks including opening a case, producing a document, raising an invoice, and providing updates to clients etc. Then, highlight areas for improvement where legal software can help to standardise, streamline, reduce, or automate.

When implementing the improvements to your team’s daily habits and processes be sure to consider how they relate back to your wider values and goals. Are they helping you to be client-focused, empower employees, and innovate?

The role people play in technology

When new processes and systems are implemented, you may be asking some of your team to change decade-old habits, so be sensitive to how change is introduced. Employees need to feel empowered by tech, not scared by it, which is why a people-approach to tech is key to success.

Communication is crucial. Leaders need to listen harder to teams and involve employees from the outset of any new process or system. Discover the current challenges faced by every role in the firm and ask for ideas and feedback without assuming the answers. This will help alleviate fears and encourage teams to stay open to adopting and improving habits.

To optimise operations successfully the gap between technology and legal processes needs to be bridged. This requires assigning the right person / people (such as a legal operations manager) at the firm to take responsibility for implementing and adopting legal technology to improve operations. There is a lot to consider when identifying the right individual(s): for help and advice read our guide about who is responsible for your firm’s success.

A people’s approach to tech puts humans at the heart of processes to ensure employees and clients benefit and are empowered by the digital tools. When people feel connected and included this can be felt in a company’s culture.

Build better habits for your firm’s culture to thrive

To build a thriving culture within your law firm – to help attract and retain client and employees – you need to start by asking yourself what is important to you. Determine what your values and associated mindsets are. When you know what’s important you can begin to implement daily habits and processes, utilising technology, which align and help you to reach your goals and follow your values.

Everyone in your firm is responsible for its culture and long-term success. All habits and behaviours determine a company. Therefore, when everyone in striving for the same goals there is a sense of connection and purpose – the components that help shape a culture. Start with the fundamentals of legal operations and build better, aligned habits that create an impactful culture both employees and clients want to be a part of.