"Everything you've been told about building
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Why Culture Matters

You know that the culture of your law firm is important, right? You read and hear about the importance of culture, but what does it mean for your law firm? If you don’t know what culture means for your law firm, your team won’t know either…and you will be just like every other law firm.  

You begin by defining the culture of your law firm. The culture should be explicitly defined and shared among your team. There should be no ambiguity as to your law firm’s culture and above anything else, it should be unique.  

Our Culture Defined: Hungry, Humble and Passionate

Everyone works as a team. We are committed to a culture of teamwork. We will win or lose as a team.  No team player is more important than the other. If one team player isn’t doing their job, it will affect all of us.

Our culture is about being hungry, humble and passionate. These are the 3 virtues of our law firm:

HUNGRY: Going above and beyond and no longer needing prodding and reminding. Taking on whatever they possibly can for the good of the team.  A hungry team player is always thinking of how they can do more to help everyone else.

A hungry team player is a self-starter.  Rather than reporting problems, they try to solve them. Always think, “What can I do to make our law firm better?” Even if it is only a slight improvement in our processes and systems.

“Hungry people are always hungry for more. More things to do, more to
 learn, more responsibility to take on.”

Patrick Lencioni, “The Ideal Team Player

Hard-working people usually don't want to work nine to five. They are willing to do work that they’ve never done before and are willing to embrace new challenges, e.g., “I don’t know how to do what you’re asking, but I’LL TRY.” A hungry team player will never say, “That’s not my job.”  Do not complain about having to do grunt work.  In a small law firm, you have to be willing to do anything. 

HUMBLE:  We can’t abide by big egos.  A humble team player is down-to-earth and unpretentious.  They have little ego when it comes to needing attention or credit for their contributions. They put the results of our clients ahead of their own needs.

“Humility is the single greatest and most indispensable attribute of a team player.”

Patrick Lencioni, “The Ideal Team Player

A humble team player is open to feedback and willing to admit when they’re wrong.  They are willing to do tasks that are below their job title without hesitation.

PASSIONATE: Being passionate about the rights of the disabled. What does this mean? You’re not focused on yourself—you’re focused on the plight of our clients. We are passionate about the rights of the disabled and doing great work.

What can you do to show caring, compassion and concern for our clients? The next time you speak with a new client in a wrongful death case, you might tell them, “You are a wonderful advocate for your family.  My heart goes out to you for your loss.”

Our purpose is, “Stopping Medical Injustice”.  Why is our work important? Our firm focuses on medical malpractice for injury victims. If our firm did not exist, there would be an empty void for victims of medical malpractice, particularly in the Hudson Valley (where medical malpractice is ubiquitous). We can’t let that happen.

Hiring and Firing based upon Your Firm’s Culture

Being intentional about the culture is important, as it will dictate hiring and firing decisions and you will celebrate when a team player embodies the values of your law firm’s culture. Less is more—keep the virtues of your culture simple.

When hiring, assess a candidate based upon your firm’s virtues:

Hungry: Is the candidate willing to go above and beyond? (on a scale of 0 to 2, with 0 being “not at all” and 2 being “absolutely!”)

Humble: Is the candidate down-to-earth and unpretentious?

Passionate: Is the candidate passionate about the rights of the disabled?

We evaluate candidates for employment based upon our firm’s 3 virtues.  If a candidate does not have experience protecting the rights of the disabled, they won’t be successful with our law firm. If the candidate is a self-centered egomaniac, they can’t work with us. 

Enforcing Your Firm’s Culture with Your Team

When a team player goes above and beyond, acknowledge their work, e.g., “I love how you handled this situation without my involvement.” Whenever you remind a team member about one of your virtues, you are reinforcing your culture.

If a team player is merely reporting problems without trying to fix them, hold them accountable, e.g., “I need you to fix this problem, not leave it for me.” Of course, it’s much easier to avoid these uncomfortable conversations, but your culture means nothing if you are not enforcing your firm’s virtues.

At employment evaluations, we focus on whether the new team member is a good fit for our firm’s culture. Does the employee go above and beyond (hungry)? Are they unpretentious and down-to-earth (humble)? Are they passionate about the rights of the disabled (passionate)? You are not looking for the perfect employee, but rather the ideal team player.

Measuring Your Culture with Client Surveys

Is your culture alive and well?  Begin by asking your clients.  Let’s say one of your virtues is treating your clients with compassion. You might send a series of surveys to your clients at different intervals of their case, e.g., “During the initial intake call, were you treated with caring, compassion and concern?” 

Don’t stop there. Throughout the case, periodically survey your clients to find out if your team players are embracing your virtues. You might send a client survey at the conclusion of your client’s deposition and following the trial/settlement.

In the client surveys, ask questions that embody your firm’s virtues:

Hungry: Do you feel as though our law firm went above and beyond for you? (on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “not at all” and 10 being “absolutely!”)

Humble: Do you feel as though you were treated with respect and dignity?

Passionate: Do you feel as though our law firm fought for your rights?

If the client surveys come back with perfect 10s, your culture is thriving. If the surveys have low scores, you’ve got a problem that needs to be addressed. Either way, client surveys are a barometer of your firm’s culture.

What the Most Successful Law Firms Do

Very few law firms have a defined set of virtues and a culture that is used for hiring, firing and measuring client happiness. But the most successful law firms (Finkelstein & Partners, LLP, the ultimate plaintiff’s firm in New York) thrive based upon a unique set of virtues (a/k/a/ culture) that they use to measure every aspect of their operations, from hiring and firing to client satisfaction. Not only is this good business, it makes running a law firm easier. 

So, there’s one question for you: what is the culture of your law firm? If you don’t have a defined culture, it’s a good time to define the virtues of your firm. And just maybe, you might find that hiring and firing will become easier and measuring client happiness will become effortless. Is there anything more important for running your law firm?

Leave a comment below telling me what surprised, inspired or taught you the most (I personally respond to every comment). And if you disagree with my take on running a personal injury law firm, or have a specific, actionable tip, I’d love to hear from you.