As we approach the 2020s, employees within many established company cultures across the globe are demanding seismic changes such as agile working.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the UK’s legal sector. But the successful transformation of a company that can meet the needs of its clients or customers, often needs a culture that values agility and adaptability. But what comes first? 

External forces in the form of an unpredictable political landscape, changing demands from clients and the deregulation of the market, mean that the “traditional law firm” is starting, and needing, to become a thing of the past. 

Internal forces are also at work too. Employees and the working culture they operate in, are also demanding change. New technology, de-regulation and flexible working means cultural expectations from our employees are very different from five years ago. It would seem that the Millennials and Gen Z’ers – coupled with an ever more connected world – is driving change in the workplace.

But how can law firms change to address these demands while also becoming more competitive and have a great culture too? The last point is hugely important as culture encompasses the social behaviour and norms found in human societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, laws, customs, capabilities and habits of the individuals in these groups, so getting it right opens the door to change and success.

And what if a law firm is already very successful? Change is not easy, and if a company is doing well, considering or effecting cultural change may not even be a priority. But the wind of change is blowing through the sector; and law firms – even successful ones – ignore it at their peril.

Influence of technology

Thankfully technology allows new solutions and delivery methods which can satisfy these demands and help to bring in the necessary changes. With an increasing appetite for new ways to work and a stronger desire to maintain a work-life balance, employees are becoming more agile, enabled by the technology available, which in turn can influence the company’s culture and encourage staff to be more adaptable to further business changes.  

Technology can also address client and market demands to remain competitive. For example, the ability to automate business processes, the advent of AI, providing clients with the ability to self-serve, create client chat groups and provide SMS messaging.

Overall, firms need to provide a technological infrastructure and environment where people can work to deliver services to meet client needs while also supporting a flexible working culture. Couple that with employees buying in to the firm’s overall purpose, will help to create an engaged culture, that is ready for the changes that a business may need to introduce to be competitive, more of which is below.

It’s (not) all about the money

Research has proven that Generation Z and Millennial employees want a sense of purpose and they would like the firm they work for to have a mission that is greater than just making money. 

Firms may have strong financial plans for growth but new generations -and a large swathe of older ones – expect their employer to have a conscience and a ‘bigger purpose’. 

This can be used to the benefit of a firm that needs to transform to remain competitive. For example, being a business that “makes a difference” to people; working in a paperless way; sourcing power from green suppliers, getting involved in philanthropic projects and prioritising employee wellbeing. 

These actions all form part of that bigger purpose that underpins the firm’s culture and employees who buy into this culture are likely to be more productive and loyal to the business and therefore help to drive turnover.

Define your culture

After introducing the appropriate technology and understanding your employees’ true motivations, the next step is to define your culture, goals and mission. 

This will inspire loyalty and engagement, not only from employees but also clients and other stakeholder groups. Whether firms deliver this via their own internal HR strategy or seek input from external experts, the mission and goals can be drawn out and stakeholder groups engaged.

And when this common culture is adopted by everyone, this helps to garner support for business owners when they need to bring in the necessary changes to be competitive and to meet the external market demands being placed on them.

In summary, a law firm can only change if its culture supports it. This is where the devil is in the detail in terms of aligning culture and transformation. The chicken and the egg are born at the same time but one cannot exist without the other.

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Gina Connell
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