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Inaugural Law Firm Culture Survey from Major, Lindsey & Africa and Law360 Finds High Level of Alignment Between Firm Culture and Attorneys’ Personal Values

Hanover, MD – June 22, 2022 – While employers across industries are still reeling from record employee turnover amid the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent Great Resignation, a new survey on law firm culture from Major, Lindsey & Africa (MLA) shows that attorneys generally feel that their firms’ top values — including an emphasis on integrity; well-being and work-life balance; and training and mentoring – align with their own. At the same time, the results also show that firms have room to improve on diversity, with 38% of survey participants citing diversity in race, gender, ethnicity and religion as a trait that they would like to see more reflected in firm culture, and 33% saying diversity in leadership is an area of improvement for their firm.

The report offers several positive takeaways for firm leaders looking to maximize employee satisfaction and retain their top talent. Across all levels of attorneys surveyed, 76% of respondents cited a high priority on client service as embodying a key element of their firm’s culture. Only two other traits – good fiscal management and integrity – were cited by over 50% of respondents.

While a sizable majority of respondents (65%) cited good fiscal management as a firm trait that inspires positive feelings about their firm, strong emphasis on billing, profits or partner/associate leverage was widely disfavored. In fact, profit-mindedness, demonstrated by linking bonuses and promotions to high billable hour requirements, was cited as the single most disfavored trait by 42% of respondents and ranked dead last among 28 traits inspiring positive feelings by 98% of respondents.

While diversity was a priority trait for many attorneys, respondents’ assessments of firm diversity efforts were mixed. Thirty-six percent of respondents identified the presence of women and people of color in firm leadership roles as a positive trait embodying their firm’s culture. At the same time, 38% of respondents named diversity in race, gender, ethnicity and religion as a trait that they’d like to see more prominently reflected in firm culture.

“In launching this survey, one of our goals was to learn more about the cultural values that attorneys prize the most, as well as those they find most strongly reflected at their own firms. As we analyzed the results, we were excited to see how much positive energy exists within the culture of many law firms,” said Ron Wood, a Managing Director in MLA’s Partner Practice Group and a survey co-author. “Indeed, the survey showed that firms, by and large, are aligned with their attorneys on their most important values, including sound fiscal management and prioritizing client service.

“However, it’s clear that investing in diverse candidates, and empowering women and people of color to take on firm leadership positions, is a key area in which attorneys would like to see their firms dedicating more attention,” Wood added. “As firms look to attract and retain top talent, it’s imperative that they make a conscious effort to support diverse attorneys’ growth through the ranks and provide them with the resources and training they need in order to reach the next level.” 

Other highlights of the survey included:

  • Critically for law firm leaders, attorneys are broadly concerned about succession planning, and would like their firms to invest more in training and mentorship. Eighteen percent of respondents cited succession and transition planning (or lack thereof) as a trait that inspires negative feelings about their firms. When asked which traits they would like to see firms emphasize more, 44% of respondents cited an emphasis on training and mentoring.
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, support for well-being and work-life balance was a highly valued element of firm culture, particularly among Millennials. Forty-four percent of respondents cited this as a trait that best embodied their firm’s culture, while 36% wanted to see this trait more prominently reflected in firm culture.
  • While respondents held a positive view of their firm’s trajectory, perceived prestige or elite status was not cited as a particularly important firm trait. Of the traits that lawyers felt defined their respective firms, perceived prestige did not crack the top 10. However, over 80% of respondents reported positive feelings about their firm’s trajectory, with 51% viewing their firm as “on the rise” and another 31% viewing their firm as a “stalwart of the corporate legal community.”
  • According to respondents, the most admired firms for culture were Latham & Watkins, Davis Polk & Wardell, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, Debevoise & Plimpton and Cravath, Swaine & Moore. The firm with the highest correlation between firm culture and personal values was Hogan Lovells.

The Law Firm Culture Survey results were drawn from responses from 752 respondents, hailing from 361 unique law firms in 94 markets in the U.S. The survey was held between March 29, 2022, and May 1, 2022.

The full text of the 2022 Law Firm Culture Survey: Lawyers’ Perspectives on Diversity, Work-Life Balance and Succession Planning is available here.

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