5 Ways Leaders in the Legal Field Can Build a Culture of Success

By Jamy J. Sullivan, JD


Company culture has a significant impact on a team’s performance, but it’s not something managers can engineer at will. That’s because it doesn’t come only from the top, but also partly from the team itself. The way employees communicate, collaborate and treat each other — that’s your office culture.

Even as a law firm or corporate legal department leader, you can’t force a positive workplace culture, but you can strongly influence it. Savvy managers know how to nudge people in the right direction by encouraging teamwork and accountability. Do that, and you’ll help foster a culture of success.

What is a culture of success?

Each law firm or corporate legal department has its own internal culture. And while there’s more than one way to succeed, most high-performing groups tend to emphasize the following:

  • Communication — Everyone feels empowered to offer ideas and share feedback.
  • Engagement — People go the extra mile to deliver high-quality work.
  • Retention — Employees stay with the team for a substantial amount of time.
  • Focus — Everyone knows what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.
  • Growth — The team is committed to constant improvement and development.

If you’re worried that your team isn’t living up to its potential, you might be falling short in one or more of these areas. Here are five tips for encouraging a winning company culture:

●  Get your onboarding process right. New hires may struggle to navigate an unfamiliar office culture. Onboarding is your chance to make them feel like they belong from the outset.

Don’t just tell them. Show them. There’s no point boasting about your structured routine and collaborative mindset if you leave new hires waiting at an empty desk during their first hour of employment. If anything, you need to be even more proactive about initiating remote workers into your company culture since they’ve had fewer chances to observe it firsthand.

●  Assign meaningful goals. Employees work best when they feel like their job means something. Pride in their organization is one of the main drivers of workplace happiness for legal professionals, and is linked to higher engagement, productivity and retention.

When assigning responsibilities, try to give employees a sense of why that task is crucial to your organization’s overall mission. But don’t just leave it there. If they do a great job, congratulate them and reiterate how that task contributed to the team’s success.

●  Invest in professional development. Team members are more likely to look out for the organization if they feel like the organization is looking out for them. For managers, that means investing in training and certification to help people achieve their career goals. Consider setting up a mentorship program to help people grow. Or provide access to legal journals and research services so they can study in their free time.

As with project goals, team members will be more excited about professional development if they understand how it aligns with the organization’s overall strategy — and their own advancement in the firm. Digital upskilling, for example, means much more than learning the keyboard shortcuts for your document management system. It’s also about understanding concepts like machine learning and artificial intelligence, then deploying those learnings to give your team a competitive advantage.

●  Treat failure as a learning opportunity. Legal teams are under enormous pressure to always get things right. This can sometimes translate into a blame game, which is always counterproductive and often toxic. Instead of pointing fingers, encourage your team to treat failure as an opportunity for future improvement. What went wrong? What can everyone learn from the experience to help prevent it from happening again?

●  Share setbacks as well as victories. Whenever a law firm or corporate legal department scores a big win, it’s always the result of a team effort. Everyone deserves recognition for their work, from lawyers to paralegals to office support staff. Equally, when something doesn’t go well, it’s a moment for the whole team to support each other and prepare for the next challenge.

Best practices like these can help your team stay focused and motivated, but they won’t guarantee that you’ll embark on a winning streak. Be patient and trust your methods. A culture of success is more about mindset than results, and if the mindset is right, the wins will come.