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Creating a Common Law Firm Culture

Marilyn Odendahl theindianalawyer.com

Heather Wilson, member-in-charge of the Frost Brown Todd LLC Indianapolis office, turned at her desk, dialed the videophone and on the screen appeared her colleague in Cincinnati, Ohio.

She chatted with Christopher Habel, member-in-charge of the firm’s Cincinnati office. She could have sent an email or used a standard phone to call him but, she said, being able to see each other while they talked about firm business kept them more engaged and made the conversation more productive.

Almost inadvertently while they were talking, Wilson and Habel were also practicing the firm’s culture. Videophones are just one of the tools FBT relies on to create connections between its more than 500 attorneys who are spread in 12 offices over eight states. The firm places an emphasis on working together and being willing to tap into the expertise of colleagues.

Culture within a law firm can be difficult to explain and maybe not easily recognized since the goal is to integrate the underlying philosophy so thoroughly it becomes a natural part of the workplace.

Linking the lawyers through technology such as videophones, gathering all of them in one place for a firm-wide meeting every year and having management practice the culture they preach helps to reinforce the firm’s personality. Managing attorneys say culture must be purposefully cultivated or the entire firm could risk breaking apart.

“It’s my opinion that law firms that don’t figure this out are not going to be able to recruit and retain the top laterals,” Wilson said. “My generation would be willing to put up with a certain level (of frustration). This generation is not going to.”

Ronald Nye, managing partner of the Major Lindsey & Africa Chicago office, is seeing law firms place more emphasis on culture.

Lawyers consider culture as necessary to serving their clients, becoming more profitable and allowing them to grow, he said. In firms with a strong culture, attorneys will be likelier to work collaboratively and send their clients to a colleague in the office which, in turn, will enable them to expand the business they do with existing clients and bring in new ones.

“I think firms definitely view culture as important,” Nye said. “If people buy into the culture, they’re going to be happier, they’re going to stay, and they’re going to work harder.”


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