The legal profession is in the early mist of a fast-approaching perfect storm. Some would argue we’re in its eye already. Times are challenging for law firms. In-house legal teams have never had so much bargaining strength, choice and opportunity. Swathes of recent articles have documented the severe problems around mental health, burnout, retention, unhealthy cultures, diversity and inclusion and well-being. LawCare’s 2021 Impact Report documented the most common issues they are providing support around included stress, anxiety, bullying, depression and worries about career development. Last year, there was a rise of 24% in people contacting LawCare to seek their support.
But despite this, firms continue to take record revenues and pay eye-watering salaries to attract and retain talent. Business is good, but at what cost and for how long? When the storm has passed, what personal and commercial damage will we see laid bare?
Law firms have been quick to advise on ESG requirements, policies and regulations. This is a wonderful opportunity, not just from a revenue perspective, but also for law firms to make their mark in positively influencing businesses and using their position to ‘change the world’ at large. However, how well-equipped are they to meet robust and worthy credentials in this regard themselves? How might they design, measure and demonstrate these achievements for their own organisations?
Doing this in an impactful way would see them through the storm, emerging stronger, with a happy, healthy and successful workforce and business – and well-positioned to authentically influence the wider corporate world for the greater good. However, to do that, we must take a radical and innovative approach, moving away from ticking boxes and quick fixes for the PR value.
What might we learn from skilful sailors navigating an actual storm? What steps must we take to lead us unscathed, safe and still sailing on the right path?
Be prepared – read weather warnings early, make decisions and formulate a plan.
Prepare the crew – ensure they have their safety equipment, are ready, remain calm and are bound in purpose and relationship.
Identify the north star, a constant focal point from which to measure your position and direction.
Have a well understood strategic plan with intermediate goals and metrics to help stay the course and deliver interim objectives.
Keep looking up at the north star, be prepared for external/internal events which may deviate your course.
Operational and other pressures may impact your position – course correct as necessary.
Make sure the crew are always aware, aligned and empowered to help execute on the above.
So, if this is the gold standard process, how have we in law approached risks and turbulence up until now?
I’m a legal industry champion and see some great things happening around culture and well-being, pockets of real brilliance and purpose. However, we also see many firms choosing to ignore the issues and window dress, taking vanity metrics as a measure of success. It’s not through a lack of wanting to make fundamental changes. It’s just that just that many firms haven’t had the best means, measurements or motives to truly address the underlying causes. Also, many cultural initiatives only deliver temporary and superficial relief, partly because they are separated thematically (eg diversity, wellbeing, retention, sustainability etc) with responsibility dealt out to different departments, without a joined up, holistic approach.
None of these matters can be dealt with in isolation. They are all cogs that need to be carefully crafted, assembled and oiled with continual and careful maintenance in the service of the overall purpose and output. Once we understand this, then we can begin to view, assess and deliver on a more fundamental level that creates the impact needed to create real and meaningful cultural change.
Again, I believe that law firms genuinely want to do the right things when it comes to changing culture, but perhaps don’t have the clear view, the right data or the adequate tools. They’re looking in the wrong direction, through the wrong lens and for the wrong outcome. The approach has been to consider how they look from the outside – to clients, to prospective employees, to each other. Looking through these lenses, denies the ability to create genuine awareness, potent intentionality and energetic compassion – all so needed for corporate success in the ‘new future’. Even being a B Corp is only one step on this journey. It demonstrates a commitment to certain standards, but who’s robustly measuring the reality and what happens when, as we’ve seen, things don’t go to plan? We’ve now seen Mishcon withdrawing from the B Corp régime and alluding to a new set of standards. That’s not the answer either.
When situations urgently need addressing, it’s easy to play around the edges. There hasn’t been enough meaningful and consistent introspection across many law firms to facilitate (a) true self-awareness, (b) a genuine alignment on purpose, operational strategy and culture and © a positive contribution to the world at large. It’s only by looking through this lens, listening in this way and genuinely caring about the insights that are forthcoming, that we can we succeed in the truest sense.
So what are our components to achieve meaningful and lasting solutions?
Purpose – re-define and re-engage with your purpose – for your business, your people and the world it impacts. (Aligning your business behind a purpose with societal impact has been proven to make companies more profitable and valuable)
Deep awareness – get a real understanding of your true reality in relation to #1 from your core DNA made up of your leadership, workforce and clients. Focus on your truth and not the shop window or what others might think of you.
Intention – commit to addressing challenges and gaps outlined by #2 and chart your course vs your north star at #1.
Alignment – ensure your crew are fully equipped, committed and engaged; ensure your cogs (initiatives, objectives and strategies) are all lined up and sufficiently oiled. Identify, inspire and invest in your human capital and potential.
Compassion – let it infuse all of the above and all that you do – starting with your organisation, your stakeholders, your relationships: acceptance, no judgement and positive intent. We’re all on a journey, together.
Innovation – accept discomfort, embrace change, welcome mistakes, spot new paths. We need new ways to make real change happen and create the world and impact we want to see.
There are practical ways in which firms can do this, achieve tangible results and measure and manage outcomes holistically. We’ll write more about this more very shortly.
There’s still time and hope and we can use these crises as an opportunity to radically improve the culture of the legal profession, the holistic health of our people and the longevity and true value of our businesses. It’s either that or seeing, when the storm has passed and tide’s gone out, who’s currently wearing Emperor’s clothes.
At LexSolutions, we are looking for the law firm cultural enthusiasts and/or rebels (however you choose to view the movement) who want to be part of this voyage to create real cultural change in the legal industry. We believe we have the right crew and spirit to create something incredible if we are brave and committed enough to venture into new territory.
Watch this space. Contact Manu@lexsolutions.com if you want to be part of it.
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