How important is a law firm’s culture when choosing which firm to join as an NQ? And how do you even go about determining what that culture is and whether it is a good fit for you?
I read recently that Hogan Lovells has installed an indoor putting green in its new Birmingham office. The “Gallimore Green” has been named in homage to one of its partners, Michael Gallimore, who is by all accounts a bit of a golf nut.
The workspace has other facilities too, such as a coffee house, gym and table tennis area. It sounds less like solicitors’ office and more like a We Work-style co-working space. Michael Gallimore said of it: “We want to provide our people with challenging and exciting client work, a supportive and ambitious culture, and a first-class working environment with excellent amenities.”
It brings to mind Richard Branson’s quote: “Create the kind of workplace and company culture that will attract great talent.”
That’s clearly Hogan Lovells’ thinking, as it is for many law firms. Firms talk a lot about their culture when recruiting staff, with phrases such a “nurturing”, “supportive” and “collegiate” never very far away.
In my experience, one of the most important things a candidate can do is look beyond what a firm says its culture is and more at how its culture is demonstrated. I had this in mind recently when I stumbled upon the website of a law firm in the south east (whose identity I won’t reveal) that featured standard issue profile shots of all the staff except the managing partner, who for some reason appeared in a long, curly wig, and a moustache and nose set in the style of Groucho Marx. I couldn’t work out if this was an attempt to show the firm’s sense of fun and informal style or a wind up perpetrated by the IT team. Either way, when I went back to the website to show a colleague, the picture had been replaced with a ‘normal’ profile shot matching all the others.
Then I read about Proximity law firm in Australia on Roll on Fridayunder the heading ‘Bonkers Law Firm Website’. The article refers to the fact that Proximity’s website explains how they’ve worked out “how to do things differently” and exist “at the pointy end” (whatever that means). Their profile pics alternate between the usual suited and booted look and the same people dressed for their hobbies: snowboarding, cycling, yoga, etc. Yes, it is a bit cheesy, but everyone is smiling, and you get a sense of what the firm must be like to work for.
I would still take this with a pinch of salt though. I always advise candidates thinking of joining a new firm to do two things:
- Establish what the firm’s culture is really like.
- Work out if that culture is a good fit for their own values and what they want in their working life.
Let’s look at these two aspects in more detail.
How do you establish what a law firm’s culture is?
You can do this by finding out what behaviour is expected and encouraged of its staff, and what behaviour is tolerated.
Despite what some firms say, many firms encourage individual effort over teamwork, rivalry between colleagues rather than harmony, the meeting of financial targets over staff wellbeing, disrespect towards clients ahead of relationship building.
Similarly, some firms give more lassitude towards “big-hitter” fee earners in relation to their behaviour, treat non-fee earners or junior staff with less respect than fee earners or senior staff, and take a cavalier attitude towards billing chargeable time to certain clients.
In contrast, it will be the culture at some firms to show genuine concern for their clients, the advice they give them and how much they charge for it. In addition, there will be mutual respect between colleagues at all levels within the firm, and care from the management for the health and welfare of their staff.
You can find out about these things by speaking to people who work at the firm or who used to work at the firm and by carrying out research online. You can glean a lot too from the interview process and your impressions when you are shown around the firm.
Work out what you want
While it’s true that this generation of junior professionals is more conscious of the importance of getting the right work/life balance, I am still surprised by how many NQs I speak to who haven’t thought through what they want from their career. You won’t know if you are a match unless you know what your priorities are in terms of culture and values.
What type of working environment do you want and what relationships do you expect to have with colleagues? Everyone is different; some people thrive in a highly competitive environment with a ‘macho’ work culture, other prefer a high degree of teamwork and sociability. Consider also the work/life balance you are comfortable with and how much time you want to see friends or family or to pursue your hobbies.
The important thing is to determine if the firm is a good fit for you rather than whether you could tolerate or make a go of it.
If you would like to take the next step in your legal career, or if you are looking to hire solicitors at NQ to 2 PQE, register now with NQ Solicitors or call 020 3709 9165 to find out more.