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What Is Firm Culture and How to Create It

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on July 16, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

We've been talking about firm culture a bit, but haven't really defined the term. Think of it as your law firm's personality. While you've probably heard the concept of "lifestyle firm" when it comes the occasional BigLaw or MidLaw firm, you're probably wondering what that has to do with small law firms. Well, we're here to tell you that it is definitely important to small law firms.

Let's look at some ways law firm culture will play a larger role in your firm's business.

What Is Firm Culture

How does a law firm have a personality? It is the little things that create the culture of the law firm, such as dress code, how people address each other, how formal the office is, expectations for billable hours and career trajectories that dictate firm culture, says Bloomberg BNA. For example, are you the small firm going after BigLaw corporate clients? Then maybe your firm culture will emulate white shoe law firms' cultures. Or maybe you started your own practice because you hated the stuffiness of BigLaw and you have a "Hawaiian shirts only" policy.

Firm culture is important for two main reasons: talent and clients. (Sorry, we lied -- reason #3 is rankings).

Firm Culture -- Recruiting and Retaining Talent

Your law firm's culture can be an asset (or a liability) when it comes to recruiting and retaining talent. You'll want to hire associates and staff members whose personalities and work ethics align with your law firm's culture. If you are looking for people with great personalities and who are a little laid back, then maybe opting for the associate with straight As, but who made you yawn during the interview is not the best idea.

Likewise, if you are looking for an over-achiever to go beyond the call of duty, then you may not want to hire the person who you had a great conversation with about their hobbies, but was concerned about working on weekends. Being up front about what you you look for to compliment your culture will mean that you make smarter hiring decisions.

Firm Culture -- Attracting and Retaining Clients

Firm culture will also play into how you attract and retain clients. Perhaps you want to emulate the laid back executives of the industry in which you've established your niche practice. Or, if you enjoy client contact, maybe clients who tend to be uptight people that need their hand held through each stop of the process are for you. Just as dating is about two personalities coming together, so is the relationship between client and attorney (just without the kissing of course).

Law firm culture, like Rome, is not built in one day. It's something that evolves as the firm grows. Don't think of law firm culture as something that doesn't apply to you -- because that will be your default firm culture -- not caring. Take some time to think about what kind of "personality" you want your firm to have, and how to convey that through law firm policies.

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