Survey Reveals the Characteristics Attorneys Want in Law Firm Culture  

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To achieve lasting success, law firms must recruit and retain attorneys who have a vested interest in the success of the firm. Attorneys may be more likely to support and shepherd the enduring success of a law firm with a culture that aligns with their values.

The 2023 Law Firm Culture Survey by Major, Lindsey & Africa and Law360 Pulse explored what exactly constitutes law firm culture. The survey asked roughly 400 lawyers at 227 firms to identify the 10 characteristics that most define their firm. Respondents—64% of whom were senior members of their firms—were also asked what type of feeling these characteristics inspired.

Firms that are “profit-minded” created negative feelings among the greatest number of respondents (almost 40%), while those that prioritized client service and the quality of their attorney’s work inspired positive feelings. Below, we share other interesting findings from the survey.

How lawyers view their law firms’ culture

Respondents were asked to identify the traits that most embody their firm’s culture. Most respondents said their firms placed a high priority on client service (74%), had high-quality performance expectations [for the lawyer] (68%) and integrity (52%), and were well-managed from a financial standpoint (52%).

Not as many respondents said their firms create environments that value input and ideas from everyone (34%) or where training and mentoring are emphasized (30%). And less than 30% of respondents indicated that their firm creates a culture where disputes over compensation are rare.

What characteristics make lawyers feel positively about their firm?

For the most part, the characteristics lawyers used to describe their firms also inspire positive feelings.

The top five traits that respondents said made them feel positively about their firm were: the firm’s high priority on client service, its high-quality performance expectations [for the lawyer], its integrity, that it is well-managed financially, and that it has policies that support attorneys’ work-life balance and well-being.

When asked what lawyers want to see more of in their law firm’s culture, respondents said support for attorneys’ well-being and work-life balance, transparency in compensation and important decisions, and an emphasis on training, mentoring, and succession planning,

The report also notes that men place less value on a firm’s “soft power” characteristics like civic involvement, diversity, work-life balance, and pro bono/public service. What has been a common “preference for ‘hard power,’ i.e., focus on output and profits” in firms may change as more women enter the profession.

What characteristics make lawyers feel negatively about their firm?

The most-cited characteristic that generated negative feelings from respondents toward their firms was a focus on profit (i.e., billing requirements determine promotion and bonus eligibility) over pro bono and wellness issues. This was followed by an apparent lack of transparency in compensation and other important decisions.

Also cited highly were “partner/associate ratio greater than 2:1 (two associates to every partner)” and whether their firm promotes—or doesn’t promote—an equitable sharing of origination credit.

As the report identifies, “Having two key economic issues among the top five traits lawyers dislike about their firm should send a strong message to management that openness about the compensation process, at least, is critically important to many lawyers.”

Why does this matter?

Why do these characteristics matter? Law firm culture is important in the recruitment and retention of a strong workforce. The report notes that “lawyers seeking to explore new opportunities frequently ask us [Major, Lindsey & Africa] about the culture of a given firm or company.”

Employers should evaluate their firm culture to ensure that it is consistent with how they envision and present themselves. This will allow firms to recruit and retain attorneys who align with their values, reducing turnover and increasing work happiness.

Importantly, the survey found that 65% of respondents said they had been at a prior firm and the same number said the culture of their previous firm was different from that of their current firm.

Moreover, 74% of respondents said their values align with the culture of their current firm, indicating that lawyers are leaving firms to find one more closely aligned with their ideals.

“This [survey] reveals the importance of culture—how it defines a firm and aligns with lawyers’ personal values—to those with a vested interest in the enduring success of the firm along with the responsibility for shepherding it forward and delivering it into the care of the next generation,” the report said.

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