The biggest challenges for law firms today are recruiting and retaining top talent, as well as competing for clients. With increasing hiring in the legal industry, partner turnover at record levels, and growing demand for work/life balance in the legal space, a firm’s brand and culture can entice potential recruits to join your firm, or scare them away.
Similarly, if a potential customer perceives that two firms have equal expertise, they will make a choice based on chemistry and customer service, which are shaped by a firm’s culture.
Think for a moment about your company’s brand. What comes to mind? Your logo? Your website? Your marketing materials?
While these elements are part of your organization’s brand image, your brand is much more than that. It’s about who you are and how you do things, which means a lot depends on your culture.
Brand and Culture in Recruitment
The connection between your brand and your culture is particularly significant when recruiting and retaining talent. Culture plays a big role in a recruit’s decision whether or not to join a company, but a recruit cannot fully experience your culture until they are hired.
This is where your brand comes in.
An authentic and well-articulated brand will express the culture of your company. It will work to attract the right people, and those people will be more likely to stay if there is a strong cultural fit.
It’s more relevant than ever. In a 2020 survey of CEOs from 55 U.S. law firms, talent issues were not on the list of the top five risks to law firm profitability. Just a year later, the top three risks were all talent-related: recruiting and retaining attorneys, poaching staff from competitors, and partner salary increases.
Initially, companies responded to these new challenges with a typical strategy: they threw money at the problem. But we’ve learned that higher salaries for associates and generous bonuses aren’t enough.
Today’s up-and-coming legal talent belongs to a generation that prioritizes things like flexibility, a sense of purpose, and a sense of belonging, all of which depend on your firm’s culture.
Recent research on the state of the legal market, including a McKinsey report, concludes that to deal with high turnover rates, companies will need to better understand why employees leave and reinvent their structure and operations around the world accordingly. post-pandemic.
While compensation, work-life balance, and physical and emotional health are rightly identified by senior law firm leaders as contributing factors to an employee’s decision to leave, employees themselves themselves cite other reasons as essential to their satisfaction.
Businesses will need to connect people to organizations by helping them find meaning in their work, feel valued, seize opportunities for growth and believe they are contributing to a bigger purpose, survey finds .
Law firm members and employees want to find a place that offers levels of collaboration, competitiveness, collegiality, support, diversity and inclusiveness that matches their personality – in other words, a culture that suits them and a brand they feel aligned with.
Take the dilemma of returning to work. In the summer of 2021, Morgan Stanley’s chief legal officer warned the company’s law firms that if their lawyers and employees did not return to the office, they risked losing Morgan Stanley as a client.
Despite this threat, many companies have chosen alternative solutions that have demonstrated their commitment to doing what is right for their company culture and their employees, while delivering on their customer service promise.
A few notable firms still do not have concrete firm requirements for their lawyers. Quinn Emanuel has decided that all American lawyers, from freshman associates to associates, can work from wherever they want, indefinitely. Additionally, the firm will recruit new partners who live in locations where the firm does not have an office.
These bold decisions make sense for the brand of an aggressive litigation powerhouse that proudly describes itself, using a quote from a legal trade publication, “Better. Faster. Harder. More frightening. True to the company’s clearly articulated brand and culture, Quinn Emanuel is not afraid to take risks to retain talent.
A well-defined and differentiated cultural brand can help guide business decisions and position the company with customers.
Cooley found himself in a difficult customer versus culture conundrum when his client, Tesla, asked the company to fire one of its lawyers who had worked at the United States Securities and Exchange Commission during an investigation. on Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Cooley refused, and Tesla and SpaceX followed through on their threat to take the company’s work away.
It is a shining example of how a strong culture and brand can give an organization the confidence and framework to meet challenges in a way that is true to the company, its people and its values. . Cooley’s decision, while resulting in the loss of Tesla as a customer, helped position the company’s brand as supportive of its people and culture.
Rejecting a direct request from a client takes courage. It requires understanding who you are, being clear about how you do things, and having the courage to live that brand.
Data shows that customers are increasingly choosing brands whose values align with theirs over those that don’t. It makes sense that some clients would be inclined to work with Cooley because they respect the company’s values-driven business decision.
And in general, having a good idea of who you are – and who you’re not – does a lot of work: it helps you stand out from the crowd, communicate your value proposition to customers and potential customers, streamline the business development process, and attract customers who match your service model and areas of expertise.
Define and communicate the company brand
Before you can live your brand, you need to define what it is and make sure your entire organization embraces it and buys in to it. Companies that can articulate and communicate their brand and culture will be at an advantage.
The process begins by talking to clients and people in the firm, including a significant number of partners, to find out what they consider to be the firm’s differentiators that are highly relevant to clients and recruits.
Since law firms are service businesses with many competitors that offer similar expertise in an area of practice, the differentiators often come down to service standards, behaviors and approach, which again are closely aligned with culture.
Based on these results, a clearly defined strategy should be developed to serve as the framework for achieving these differentiators through all communications and actions.
An authentic and distinctive brand supported by a consistent and successful culture is a crucial asset to help your business thrive. Whatever happens next, your brand and your culture will be your guide.
This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.
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Siobhan burns is one of the founders and director of Clarity.
Bill Schröder is a founder and principal of Clarity, a consulting firm that leads brand positioning and organizational transformation programs for interpersonal businesses, with a particular focus on large law firms and corporations, as well as a variety small organizations and startups.