Realistic Cultural Expectations

I have been focused on the vision and structure of a law practice that supports the ambitions of its people and does not impose unreasonable expectations. Before you roll your eyes, this is not a bash on “big law”, “small law” or “micro law”. What I am working on is an overall “evaluation” and “reconstruction”. (lawfirm2.0)

When things occur that are over the top unreasonable there are usually obvious remedies. I am more focused on the “culturally reinforced” unreasonable expectations.

Time, place and individual skill-sets all have a lot to do with reasonableness: if you are not technologically literate, getting work done without a strong assistant would be “unreasonable”. On the other hand, if you are computer literate, being forced to route every draft correction through Word Processing would be an “unreasonable” anchor around your neck. So too, if you’re a family person, being judged on the amount of “face time” you put in at the office, as a measure of your commitment, is “unreasonable” when your contribution to the firm is strong albeit just “balanced” with family time.

Law firm culture and structure is a “male-centric” creation. I have written in the past that the future of law firm culture is in a “female-centric” model. Will the completion of this ongoing shift be the saving grace for the public image of the practice of law? Will this shift allow for a new structure that will honor the “individuality” of people and their lives?

I have worked with enough lawyers to say they come in all shape, sizes, perspectives, and personalities; so much so that I have never advocated a “one size fits all” approach. The healthiest firms are those whose partners truly share the same vision and trust that each will do their part everyday to attain that vision. They don’t manage each other so much as they manage their piece of the shared vision. They don’t look over each other shoulders or ask “Why is my partner out of the office today?” The unhealthy firms are the ones in which partners ask those questions and more. They don’t have trust in their partners. And they don't manifest a change to settle their mistrust. Experience has shown me that unhealthy firms are created with as much effort as healthy ones, its all in the "focus of the effort".

With a hopeful eye on this new paradigm (lawfirm2.0), there are some guiding principles that seem to manifest themselves. These tend to focus the “effort”, to yield a healthy firm, on decisions that favor the individual over the “role”. Support the individual needs and assistance them instead of issuing a one size fits all toolkit or uniform. Embrace diversity and judge on the effectiveness and result, not the “evaluation form”.

Cultural expectations can often be the most burdensome and the hardest to break free from. It is a top down process that, when neglected, causes partnerships to fracture and the young blood to seek more “realistic cultural expectations”.