How strong’s the glue that holds your firm together?

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Are you a superglue or masking tape kind of firm?

Do your partners really, really understand what it means to be a partner in your firm? Even all the lateral hires who haven’t grown up in the firm. Even those that have spent a lot of time in firms with very different cultures? With more firms taking on more lateral hires, these become important questions.

Many firms have values which get mentioned on websites and in brochures. Words such as ‘Excellence’, ‘Commercial’, ‘Innovative’, ‘Teamwork’, ‘Client Service’ etc are typically mentioned but usually mean something slightly different in each firm. And I’m not convinced partners and staff know what these words really mean in their firms, particularly when it comes to making decisions.

Some people think all law firms are pretty much the same. There are a lot of similarities certainly. But having worked with more than 30 of the top 50 firms, I can assure you that the differences are marked and worth developing because being distinctive (in a good way) helps you attract clients and talented staff.

Let me explain what I mean with an example…..

I used to work at Deloitte Haskins & Sells as a strategy consultant. When we launched our values, we decided to embed the values by introducing a set of multiple choice questions and asked teams to discuss them with a member of the Board present to guide us. I remember being surprised by the recommended answers to some of the questions. For example we were encouraged to be more tactfully assertive with clients. The process really clarified our values and made decision-making much easier. It also strengthened our brand, but that’s another story…..

One way of testing whether your firm has strong glue is to see if there’s consistency about the answers to questions which pose ethical dilemmas, such as:

  • As a junior partner, how would you handle a situation where a client complains about the service from a more senior specialist partner? Would you say anything? Who would you go to? What would you say?
  • A client changes a deadline which might require a junior to leave an important training programme – how do you handle this situation? Do you get the associate back from the training? Do you negotiate with the client? If so, what do you say?
  • How would you handle a potential conflict situation, perhaps where you have definite litigation work compared to a pitch for potential longer term work for a prospect? Do you argue your case or adopt a ‘what’s best for the firm approach’?

Many firms are trying to establish a culture of entrepreneurship whilst at the same time developing good ‘corporate citizens’ who share clients and put the interests of the firm above their own. Not an easy task. But this exercise of using ethical dilemmas can help.

Are you a superglue firm? If not, consider using these ethical dilemmas.

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