Let’s talk about your law firm’s “collegiate culture”

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Collegiate“:

‘consisting of several colleges or parts’

very formal: ‘sharing ideas and responsibilities with the people you work with, in a friendly way’

– Source: Macmillan Dictionary

Business development professionals, like myself, often talk about the need for businesses to have a “collegiate” culture if the business is to have any real chance of turning a profit. Obviously when we talk about “collegiate” here what we mean is:

“the sharing of ideas and responsibilities with the people you work with in a friendly way”

rather than:

“consisting of several colleges or parts”.

But for business development professionals who operate in the professional services space, the thought of a firm actually having or  implementing a “collegiate culture” is more along the lines of a ‘nice to have’, than a reality.

There are lots of reasons why this is so, and to be fair most of them have more to do with the benefits and rewards system that breeds behaviour in law firms than a lack of willingness on the part of any firm to implement this type of culture.

And so it was with great delight that I read earlier this week the CEO of Shoosmiths (Claire Rowe) saying that a collegiate culture was how to keep staff happy and turn a profit.

Imagine, the nirvana of happy staff and making a profit.

Actually, where:

“We have a transparent and open environment, there are no secrets. We have very honest conversations with our people to set our plans. Our staff enjoy a set-up which means they can achieve their personal objectives in a supportive way”

it really isn’t that hard to imagine.

It also shouldn’t be that difficult to implement such an environment.

So it was with equal disappointment that I read the following day, on the same website, how DWF were to “take account of non-billable work in [their] new appraisal model” (my bold for emphasis).

I’m not sure if the management/HR team at DWF are aware quite how polar opposite their publicly stated approach is to that of Shoosmiths. And to be fair to the management of DWF, they may not have been aware when talking to the publisher of the website that the Shoosmiths story was going to be published the day before.

Regardless, the message to young lawyers is clear: At Shoosmiths we believe in transparent and open environment with personal respect; whereas at DWF if you are not billing, we will give you credit for whatever it is you have done, but we are not overly happy about the whole situation!

And it is worth noting that, from an #Auslaw perspective, it is not only the young lawyers who get this message. As far back as September 2010, Bob Santamaria – ANZ Bank General Counsel – stated in the Australian newspaper that:

“Law firms now are being run more as businesses and for profit, and that is affecting lawyers, good and bad”

going on to say:

 “There will be very, very good lawyers who are jaundiced by some of that approach that is applying in the big firms.”

In other words, if you can get the foundations of your culture right – and preferably making this a collegiate culture – you are some way to attracting some of the best talent around and, hopefully by extension, some of the best clients.

I happen to agree with Bob Santamaria. Indeed, I will go one step further:

If you can get a collegiate culture going in your firm that has values aligned with those of your client, you will almost certainly be as happy and profitable as Shoosmiths.

So how collegiate is the culture in your law firm?

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ps – if you are interested in what a firm’s values might look if they were selected by their client, Cordell Parvin’s “If Your Clients Could Choose Your Law Firm’s Vision and Core Values” is a good starting point

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