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Law Firm Culture as a Business Development Tool: The Importance of a Living Culture

When law firms are competing for work at the highest level, some things are just taken for granted.  Responsiveness and top-notch work are to be expected. So, how does a law firm distinguish itself beyond these characteristics? And how do firms go about creating a “living” culture to develop from within and grow?

These are a few of the questions which will be answered at the Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institutes Twenty Fifth Annual Marketing Partner Forum Conference. The breakout session The Culture Conundrum: Culture as Strategy in Legal Business Development will examine the law firm culture and how it can be used to differentiate a firm through business development strategy.  The panel will include Joseph Otterstetter and Melissa Margulies, who agreed to share some of their insights with the National Law Review. They will share critical information relating to the law firm culture being used as a business development tool--both from inside a law firm and as General Counsel.

Law Firm Culture: Determining a Good Working Relationship

Melissa Margulies, Client Service and Professional Development Counsel at Ballard Spahr LLP, agrees with the concept that excellent legal services and a certain level of responsiveness are the basic expectations any client has. She goes on to say,  “A large number of excellent firms have outstanding lawyers who are very responsive. One of the few ways, apart from specific expertise in a particular subject area or industry, to differentiate oneself from that pack, is the firm’s culture. These cornerstones are how firms go about attracting great lawyers and clients.”

The Law Firm Culture: Who (or What) Defines it? 

Simply defining “culture” within a law firm can be tricky.

Margulies indicates that law firm culture is best defined by attorneys at the firm. The way lawyers view their firm accurately says a lot about what it is like to work there. She goes on to say, “When you have lawyers working together and you want to hire lawyers, you obviously want them to be a good fit. The lawyers have to be in agreement about what it is that makes the law firm a special place.”  Additionally, Margulies says, “Being able to articulate the values in a comfortable way,” is important for any firm. Speaking about values comfortably indicates they are lived, and not just words in a corporate mission statement.

Culture as Action: Walking the Walk

Additionally, Margulies advises firms to put their words into action. This can be achieved by having attorneys give concrete examples of ways the firm lives the values.  She says, “Individual attorneys can broadcast the firm’s culture when they are talking to their clients about the things they are involved in. Perhaps they are involved in a meaningful pro-bono matter or a successful diversity and inclusion program. Talking about it is a living demonstration of the values that are important to the firm and to that individual.”

Maintaining the Relationship: The Importance of Honest Feedback

You’ve established a relationship, but how will you maintain it? Living the culture becomes even more crucial at this point. Both Margulies and Otterstetter agree that the client and the firm have a role to play. In soliciting and offering honest feedback throughout the process, the relationship builds on the mutual cultures, and productive work continues. Otterstetter says, “We are all busy, and we don’t always take time to give feedback – it’s sometimes unpleasant, but if we want to build high-trust partnerships with our firms, we need to trust each other to give meaningful feedback – both ways.” Margulies agrees, saying,  “Client feedback presents a tremendous opportunity to both sides. It gives us the chance to have a more honest discussion about what happened, allowing the firm to continually improve.”

Both Margulies and Otterstetter are looking forward to discussing law firm culture as a business development strategy January 24th to January 26th at the Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute’s Marketing Partner Forum at the Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA.

Copyright ©2019 National Law Forum, LLC


About this Author

Eilene Spear legal news editor and writer at the National Law Review
Operations Project Manager & Lead Writer

Eilene Spear is the Operations and Projects Manager for the National Law Review.  She edits and formats author profiles, legal news content and legal event listings from prominent law firms who publish on the NLR website.

As Lead Writer, Eilene writes extensively on a variety of legal topics; including legal marketing topics, interviews with top legal marketing professionals and the newest trends in legal marketing.  Additionally, Eilene writes on issues affecting the legal industry, such as women attorneys and the challenges they face, along...