Finding a Law Firm Culture that Works

Finding a Law Firm
Culture that Works
Lawyers Assistance
Facilitated by Robert
What is Law Firm
• Any group of people that engages
in some activity together will have
a set of values, conventions, and
ways of being that are unique to
that particular group-Lawyers are
no exception
• There are general cultures such as
Government, Corporate Counsel,
& Private Practice and of course
many subdivisions of thoseSmall/Solo firms, mid-size firms
and Big firms-all with very
different cultures
All Cultures are Different
• In the same way that ethnographic
cultures are very different, so too
are law firm cultures.
• The type of culture that you chose
is extremely important, especially
from an enjoyment or lifestyle
point of view
• For many Lawyers the culture is
at least as important as the area of
law that you practice
Significance of Culture
• From the point of view of lifestyle your
choice of culture will make a huge
difference in your mental health and
enjoyment of Law
• It is very helpful if you know what is most
important to you to determine what
culture you will do best in-what are your
most important values?
• We will speak of generalizations here, you
must do your own investigation of
whatever firms you are applying for-either
in the job interview or by asking lawyers
in the firm-preferably junior lawyers of
the same gender as you
Types of Cultures
• Do not rely on the people hiring
you – they will all say “don’t
worry about lifestyle in this firm”which may mean “don’t worry,
since you will be working 75
hours a week you will have no life
to worry about” or “We have great
balance here” which may mean
“you will spend your life balanced
between working and sleepingwhat else is there?”
Types of Cultures
• I Repeat-the only way to check
out a culture is to talk to the
people in it (not the people who
own it)-preferably the same
age/gender /length of call/area of
practice as you
• If you could ask only 1 question
ask “what do you love about your
job here?” pay close attention to
the body language and voice tone
when they answer-if they stumble
or can’t answer-that is your
General Cultures
• There is nothing wrong with any
type of culture, they are just
different, there is no good or bad
choice, just what is the best choice
for you?
• Law firm economics 101-to a
large extent how firms deal with
money and billing is an important
part of culture
• Generally speaking: overhead is
roughly equal to ½ of billing in
most firms-this means that to pay
a lawyer 80 thousand they must
bill 160 thousand to break even
Law Firm Economics 101
• To make any profit on this lawyer
the lawyer must bill & collect
over $160,000 or over $13,000
per month-no small feat for a
junior lawyer
• Most firms hiring a lawyer do not
do so to provide jobs for other
lawyers- they do so to make
money-the real question then is
how much profit over the cost of
overhead and salaries do they
Law Firm Economics 101
• Big firms usually want $1.00 in profit for
each dollar in salary or overhead-this
means our $80,000/ year lawyer must now
bill $240,000 or $20,000 per month to
earn her/his keep-this requires about 1600
billable hours at $150/hr-if you deduct stat
holidays and vacation (3 weeks) this
translates into billing at least 35 hours a
• This does not sound onerous except that
time at the office and billing time are
very different!!
Law Firm Economics 101
• Most lawyers never achieve more than
70% efficiency thus our sample lawyer
must put in at least 50 hours to bill 35 to
meet a rather low billing target-this means
a minimum 10 hour day at a very high
level of work efficiency
• Clearly then, long hours are an inevitable
consequence of the high salaries of Big
• Smaller firms generally do not expect as
much profit off of an associate and thus
can pay the same salary but not demand
the same high billing
Law Firm Economics 101
• Some small rural firms might be happy
with a break even situation meaning you
can make good money without killing
• For most people working over 50 hours a
week results in time taken away from
other activities like family, relationships,
friendships, sports and fitness, hobbies,
general relaxation times etc.
• For most non lawyers the average work
week is less than 40 hours-for many
lawyers it is 55
Billing and Money
• In large private sector firms
billing targets are high usually
meaning very long hours
• Are you absolutely sure the
money is worth it? Many young
lawyers are attracted to the money
after student poverty but it won’t
work unless you have a life
• Some writers say that the
relentless billing pressure also
results in unethical behaviouroverbilling etc.
Big Firm Culture
• Another element of big firm culture is that
you have little contact with clients as a
junior-this is a problem for lawyers who
want to help people
• Setting boundaries is also a problem with
big firms-there tends to be a culture if
overwork and failure to set boundaries
around clients “call me anytime” or “we
need this by Monday” Lawyers confuse
doing a good job with not setting
boundaries or fear that clients will leave if
boundaries are set-this adds to an
unhealthy culture
Small/Solo Cultures
• Over half of all lawyers chose this
• Main advantages: full autonomy,
freedom, flexibility, no others to
support/subsidize, varied work, no
problems with other lawyers that
are difficult to work with, usually
reasonable hours, direct client
contact, clients follow the lawyer
• Main disadvantages: relatively
low pay, no holiday coverage, no
pension or benefits, little
interaction with other lawyers
Small/Solo Cultures
• Sense of aloneness with solos
especially if practicing at home,
clients tend to be small, endless
marketing, need to be good at
running your own business etc.
• Mid-size firms tend to be a
combination and can eliminate the
worst features of small firms and
big firms-unfortunately they can
also be the opposite-the worst of
both-i.e. long hours and low pay
• Advantages: tend to be well
boundaried in terms of hours,
holidays etc. usually no culture of
overwork, pensions and benefits
tend be excellent (i.e.. Maternity
leave etc.) billing and money
issues eliminated, good job
• Disadvantages: pay is mediocre at
the higher levels, work can be
boring or repetitive, bureaucratic
work environment-little
autonomy, can be very
How Much Money do you
Really Need?
• Many lawyers make a high salary more
important than any other value-they are
almost always blind to this-they will
vehemently deny money is so importantbut when you look at the way they do
their life-no other conclusion is possible
• “Money won’t buy happiness, and your
worth is not measured by money”-Your
mom said this and research shows she was
right-but your ego believes money is the
scorecard of your value and importance
Courage to Chose
• It’s your choice whether you give
up a healthy, happy, well balanced
life for a less healthy, less happy
life dominated by work
• The culture you chose will make
all the difference
• Ideal culture exercise

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