A true leader understands the importance of culture and core values

A true leader understands the importance of culture and core values

By Christopher Earley

Culture is the differentiating factor that makes a law firm unique and distinct from its competitors. The right culture gives firms a competitive edge. Culture is either healthy or unhealthy, there is no middle ground. The right culture encourages team members to stay, while the wrong culture forces them to leave.

It is essential that law firm leaders create and foster a culture that is healthy and thriving for team members. This is true leadership in action. A leader’s role includes creating and maintaining the right office culture. Cultural alignment amongst all team members is extremely important for law firm growth.

One of the most significant practices that ensure a healthy culture is to hire professionals who share the firm’s core values. Those values are an articulation of a firm’s culture. If your firm’s core values are not clearly articulated, I encourage you to do that now.

Attracting the right candidates 

The process of attracting applicants who share the firm’s core values begins with writing a job description. An employment ad should be narrowly tailored to attract the right candidates and repel the wrong ones. Similar to a dating ad that is written to attract a good match, a job description should list the firm’s core values and explain why they matter in order to let applicants know what to expect.

During the job interview, ask open-ended questions that are intended to get the applicant to talk. Dive as deep as possible to get a feel for how the applicant thinks. Curveball questions I ask are, “What is the worst thing a previous employer would say about you?” or, “What would your friends say is your greatest weakness?” I make clear there are no right or wrong answers, and this I find is disarming and makes the applicant settle in comfortably into the interview. Try to tease out of the applicant ‘tells’ that will show whether or not they have values that fit with the firm.

If I like the applicant, I invite them back for a second interview when my team members take over. They almost certainly will pick up on things I missed. The more eyes and ears on a potential candidate, the better the chances of finding and selecting the right person for the job. That interview too centers on discerning whether or not there is core value alignment.

Make sure your job ads, your interview questions, and your onboarding processes and procedures are all imbued with the firm’s core values. That will go a long way in guiding leaders to hire the right person.

But no matter how carefully a hire is made, poor team members will be brought on board.  When that happens, leaders should show team members that they care. Try to turn around the new employee. If that doesn’t work, demonstrate strong leadership by cutting bait. Hiring in accordance with core values is important, but it is equally important to fire when a team member’s values are not in alignment and they can’t be rehabilitated.

Guiding principles 

Core values are needed by sole practitioners as much as they are by large firms. Regardless of a firm’s size, values embody and articulate what a firm’s team does each day. Ideally, they should be roughly five to seven in number. Leaders will find that running and growing a firm is easier and simpler when the team lives according to the firm’s values and culture. Mount the core values on the reception area wall. Place them prominently on the website where prospective clients and opposing counsel will see them and understand what the firm stands for. Hang them on the break room wall and include them in office manuals.

Leaders must put in the work to foster a healthy and thriving office culture. That begins by hiring carefully and making sure potential team members share core values. Not only will that help the firm grow, but its team members will appreciate it and stick around.

Christopher Earley is a Boston personal injury attorney and author who focuses his practice on the representation of the seriously injured and their families. His firm website is www.ChrisEarley.com.

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