The Worst Types Of Corporate Culture In Law

Experts agree that it’s typically futile and unwise to try to change a firm’s corporate culture. Corporate culture is the product of time-tested professional relationships and decision-making.

It’s fair to say that, in the least, it would be difficult to undo years of conditioned and accepted professional behavior and patterns.

In addition, business strategy, more often than not, actually benefits from tapping into a company’s corporate culture.

Knowing what motivates or incentivizes your employees—driving employee behavior that benefits clients and increases productivity—is essential for success.

Unfortunately, some types of corporate culture have no upside. In these rare instances, it becomes necessary to re-train your employees and managers and reduce the negative aspects of the office culture.

Below are three of the worst types of corporate culture in law and a few ways to eradicate them from your firm.

Machiavellian (aka Back Stabbing)

When you come up with a breakthrough idea, do you keep it to yourself for fear of theft? Do you worry when your peers lunch with your supervisor, even though you consider yourself an excellent worker? Have you ever received praise to your face from another associate, only to hear second-hand that they’ve sabotaged your reputation or work-product to somebody else?

If the above scenarios are starting to sound familiar, it’s possible you work in a Machiavellian environment.

For managers, this corporate culture is detrimental to employee motivation. Not only is it disheartening for employees to watch their best ideas credited to another person, but when this happens, it de-incentivizes employees to be creative, quick, or hardworking.

To discourage this type of corporate culture, law firm managers should be diligent with performance reviews and status reports. They should always know what employees are working on, in addition to the progress of the project.

Managers should reward group efforts and collaboration. Machiavellian cultures emerge when the individual benefits from a cutthroat, dog-eat-dog bonus system.

Machiavellian systems are easy to identify. Do your hallways have high levels of gossip? Do employees seem friendly in the office, but refrain from socializing outside it? Do certain employees brownnose by constantly talking up the manager or bragging about their achievements?

These are signs that your firm has low levels of trust and teamwork. Strive to eradicate this culture by emphasizing the importance of and recompensing fellowship—there’s a time to lead and a time to follow. Mangers should recognize employees who know how to support their peers with sincerity and in silence.

Misogynist (aka Boys Club)

At the largest firms in America, an equity gender gap persists.

The National Law Journal‘s NLJ 250 survey ranks the largest firms in the United States by headcount. And, data collected from 221 firms show that women represent a mere 15.1 percent of equity partners, and among all partners—equity and nonequity—women still comprise just 18.8 percent.

Of those firms with a good grasp on gender neutrality, with more equal partnership distribution, a culture of inclusion was cited as key.

“Women felt accepted here,” Ice Miller partner Brenda Horn, who started at the firm in 1981, said to the NLJ. Ms. Horn reported that of the four women and three men who started in her class, three of the women and two of the men went on to make partner.

“We were always less conventional [than other firms in Indiana]. Your pedigree and who you played football with didn’t matter here.”

Unfortunately, data suggests that this gender equality and culture of inclusion does not necessarily exist in 81.2 percent of law firms in the U.S.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, law continues to be a Boys Club. But, it doesn’t have to be.

If a misogynist corporate culture is alienating female attorneys at your firm, try creating a mentorship program for women. Also, encourage after-hours activities that are not gender specific.

Finally, keep in mind that language and casual conversation can be the worst culprit in increasing gender discrimination and bias. So, lead by example when interacting with people around the office halls, even when you think nobody’s listening.

Mean (aka Firm Always Comes First)

Do you ever get the feeling your firm policy is spiteful? Do you get the impression meetings are held late on Fridays to deliberately thwart attempts at a personal life? Have you been told “no” when making simple or short vacation requests for key life events—the birth of child, religious holiday, or family emergency?

If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, it may be that your firm is just plain mean.

It’s unclear why some corporate cultures have embraced a malicious attitude. Perhaps, in the past, employees have abused a vacation policy. Or, previous attorneys have taken advantage of casual Friday and early exits to celebrate the weekend.

It’s possible that the people ahead of you have ruined the corporate culture for those who follow. However, in terms of law firm management (or law), unfair and poor precedent should never prevent positive changes in policy.

If employees are reporting cruel or callous behavior or statements on the part of supervisors at your firm, take complaints seriously.

If somebody—regardless of rank—is adding to the stress or negativity of the office, sign him or her up for leadership and other team-building training.

Bad attitudes are bad for your bottom line—and that’s the bottom line.



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