When you know what your firm stands for, your values can help guide decision making in all aspects of your practice, from your hiring process, growth, and how you want to market your firm. Having a defined vision, culture, and values can help people and clients understand why you do what you do and how you do it. But you shouldn’t just be thinking about your law firm culture and values, you need to have them clearly defined and written down for all to see. Defined cultures and values also help give purpose and direction for your employees so you can all work together towards common goals.
When people can get a sense of your small law firm culture from the outside, you’re more likely to attract ideal clients and also ideal hires for the business. But if you struggle to articulate your own values, the room for mistakes is that much bigger.
Defining Your Values
Step one of creating positive firm culture is to get everyone on the same page about values. Law firm values are something that every team member should be aware of- without them, you have a lot of individuals attempting to make individual decisions without reflecting back on the company’s core mission and goals.
Your values are traits that drive your firm’s specific vision and culture and help your team pursue your firm’s goals. Think of your values as the living embodiment of the kind of law firm you want to create and the foundation of your law firm’s reputation. Your law firm’s core values should be clear on why you exist as a firm, what you want to do with your practice and be aligned with the goals and vision you have for your firm.
Having clear values helps connect your staff to their work. People need and want purpose and direction to do their jobs well and having law firm values helps with that. Having values can also help prevent work burnout and bond as a team. Your values can and should guide and influence every decision you make, from hiring, firing, managing and interacting with clients, determining employee compensation, and more.
There are many ways to define your law firm values. Start working from your own feelings and ideas. If you have a partner or close team with aligned goals, you may want to work as a group to develop your firm’s values. Maybe you’ll want a combination of the two, but regardless of how you develop your values, be authentic about it. Your values may change over time, but they should be true to you.
Values point back to your business in a concrete way. They are something your firm and team can work towards and should be something everyone at your firm believes in. Your values should also be specific, and not so broad that they become superfluous. For example, if your values are to “work hard and with integrity,” that’s great, but everyone should be working that way. Plus, it has nothing to do with your specific goals or what it means to work at your firm over other law firms.
Codifying your law firm’s values help you show others what makes your firm unique, different from other firms in your area, and help reinforce your work culture. Take some time to really think about the values you want you, your firm, and your staff to exhibit. And once you have your values in place, write them down and share them with your staff and the world. Let people know what you stand for and how you approach your practice.
If you’re not sure where to start or how to present your culture and values on your website, for inspiration, you can check out our Lawyerist core values here.
Once you’ve written down your values, start using them in your day-to-day decisions. Part of having defined values is to help guide decision making for your practice, including how to hire the right people for your firm.
Looking for the Right Skills and Right Fit
Right skills and right fit are two separate considerations as you hire someone to your law firm. You want to make sure your new colleague has the right skills for the position and is also the right fit for your firm.
Making sure that someone has the right skills is as easy as reviewing a candidate’s resume, calling their references, or asking technical questions during the interview. But determining the right fit can be more difficult. Candidates can be charming during the interview, but soon experience burn out or low morale after starting a job.
Part of knowing whether a candidate will be a good fit or not is knowing your law firm’s culture.
Your Law Firm Culture
People who align with their company’s culture tend to be more productive, foster a positive work environment, and have a sense of pride in where they work. People who don’t align with their company’s culture don’t get along with co-workers, negatively affect the work environment, and ultimately leave their jobs.
When everyone on your team is in sync, knows their roles and are moving together towards a common goal, that’s when your law firm is at its best and most productive. This comes from everyone being in sync with your law firm’s culture.
If you bring donuts for everyone on Friday’s, that’s part of your culture. So is having a regular practice of yelling, belittling, or disciplining staff members out in the open. Maybe you have a clearly defined work culture inspired by your values that you’ve been deliberately cultivating. Maybe you’ve let things develop randomly over time. If you want to start taking your law firm and staffing decisions more seriously, it’s important to have a clear law firm culture.
It isn’t easy, but you want to be deliberate about creating a healthier work environment, one that doesn’t fall into the toxic narrative of traditional law firms where people are ultra-competitive and money-driven only. This means building a culture that encourages trust between team members, confidence in individuals, and having the right people in the right places moving towards a common goal.
“Culture” doesn’t mean homogeneity, you want your culture to be inclusive and committed to diversity and accessibility. Work culture is what it’s like to work at your firm. Culture develops from the bottom up, not the top down. Everyone at your firm is responsible for culture. While law firm leadership is instrumental in setting the tone through the firm’s vision and values, they can’t declare and enforce culture. Culture comes from interactions with everyone.
So, for your law firm culture to reflect your values, the people who work for your law firm need to live and drive those values themselves. That’s why it is so essential that your firm hires for culture fit.
Hiring for Culture
The goal of the hiring process is the go through the applicants and find the best fit for your firm. The job description is the first step of the process.
Before writing your job posting, take time to review your law firm’s values and make sure they’re on your law firm website. You should also consider what skills, traits, and values you’re looking for in a candidate to help you determine whether a candidate will be a good fit for your firm and have decision-makers and criteria in place for determining who moves on in each step of the process.
As you write job postings, make sure they spend more time talking about your core values and vision than they do experience or education. The earlier and more often you talk about your law firm’s culture, the better the hiring process will be for you and your applicants. You should only hire candidates who match your culture, and you should try to get only candidates who match your culture to apply.
For example, if you’re a dog-friendly firm, include a note that applicants must be open to a dog-friendly office. Or if people in your office use words that make sailors blush have a bullet point that says applicants should be ok with the occasional, or frequent, use of foul language at the office.
Being specific about who you are and what you’re looking for is a great tool to use in job postings to quickly find the people who are most likely to work well with your team. To find that amazing fit for your law firm, the next step is interviewing.
The interview process should come after you’ve already decided the candidate has the requisite technical skills to succeed in a position. The interview is meant to determine whether a candidate will be a good culture fit. In essence, the interview is meant to help you answer the question, “Will I like working with this person at my firm?”
If someone doesn’t match your vision and values, you shouldn’t hire them. Don’t find someone that’s just good enough for the job, find someone that’s amazing. This might mean that after 50 interviews, you don’t hire anybody. If that happens, review your job posting and where you’re listing it, and try again.
You’ll also want to reconsider how you’re interviewing. Are you assessing for values and culture fit from the beginning? Are you giving candidates a tour of the office and having them meet with everyone? What kind of questions are you asking?
Questions like, “What type of culture and workplace do you thrive in?”, “What values are you drawn to?” or “How do you prefer to work and communicate with colleagues?” can help you get an idea of a candidate’s working style.
You should also consider asking behavioral interview questions, which involve asking questions about how a candidate behaved or reacted in previous specific employment-related situations. The idea behind behavioral interview questions is that how a person acted in the past will predict how they will act in the future. Most of these types of questions begin with “tell me about a time…” For example:
- Tell me about a time someone gave you feedback on your work. What was that like? What did you do?
- Tell me about a time when you worked for a place that wasn’t a strong culture fit.
- Tell me about a time when you found a policy or practice to be unfair or inefficient. What did you do?
Focusing on asking more work-style and value-based questions will help you find that amazing fit for your firm.
Even after joining your team, everyone, not just the new hire should regularly be held accountable to your values. Have quarterly reviews to see how well your team fits your values and how they exhibit your law firm values in their daily lives.
This may sound like a lot of work, but regularly making sure people are upholding your law firm values makes it easier to run your firm and make decisions.
Now that you have your values and law firm culture established, stay true to them. Having defined principles can help you leverage growth in your firm. Values give weight to expectations and standards and encourage your staff to aspire to those values.
But if you have your core values written down, but they aren’t easy to find, aren’t put anywhere, or you never reference them, then you don’t really have core values. This means that clients don’t know what you stand for, your team won’t be aligned, and your law firm growth will be stagnant at best.
Or maybe you haven’t revisited your values for years and the way you work and the team you have now is very different from when you first created your values. Don’t let law firm culture and values get in the way of growth. If you’re being overly cautious or using “culture” as an excuse to not make changes and improvements for the better, it’s time to reevaluate your values so your firm can grow.
Having values written down and regularly referenced and updated gives a direction on how you want your firm to grow, how you want your team to grow with you, and can be a guiding light when you’re faced with a difficult decision.
“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”
- Roy E. Disney
When you’re faced with difficult decisions, you can look to your values to provide clarity and help you make streamlined and informed choices that are consistent with your ultimate goals. Your law firm’s values can help you prioritize your goals and inform your strategic business decisions from hiring and staffing your firm, deciding how to manage clients, and staff compensation.
When making a decision, ask yourself if the decision is in alignment with your values. If you work in alignment with your values, you’re more likely to make decisions that you’re proud of and excited about rather than the one you regret. Let your values drive your decision.
If you want to learn more about law firm culture and values or how to hire and staff your firm, take your practice to the next level by signing up to be a Lawyerist Insider, if you haven’t already. You’ll get access to our library of downloads, and our private Facebook Group. If you’re really eager to build an efficient and future-oriented practice, check out Lawyerist Lab for hands-on, personalized training to help you build your dream law practice.