• Culture could be what makes or breaks your career within a law firm.
  • Nonetheless, an incorrect or disagreeable culture can often occur with law firms.
  • Find out why cultural fits are so important to attorneys and the firms they work with.

We believe that an attorney's happiness and success in the practice of law have more to do with a particular law firm culture (which is sometimes also referred to as the personality of a firm) than with any other factor. This article discusses (a) the importance of firm culture, (b) why some attorneys do not give strong consideration to firm culture when joining a firm either during or after law school, (c) the reason a failure to seriously consider firm culture prematurely ends many legal careers, and (d) why making a lateral move provides the best opportunity to evaluate firm culture and the course of your career.

Why the Culture of the Law Fim You Are Working for Will Determine How Happy and Successful You Are Practicing Law
 
A. Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes

A. The Importance of Firm Culture

Just as the work, salary, and prestige level can vary from firm to firm, the cultures of firms can be very different. Consider the following examples about the cultures of various firms:
 
  • There are firms where style is definitely valued over substance.
  • There are firms where substance is definitely valued over style.
  • There are firms where people wander around in Birkenstocks and call each other "dude."
  • There are firms where associates are expected to call partners "Mr." and "Ms."
  • There are firms where associates need to make appointments with partners before speaking with them.
  • There are firms where partners chew tobacco in the office and during firm meetings.
  • There are firms that value your family connections more than your work ability.
  • There are firms that are extremely secretive with their associates.
  • There are firms that believe everyone who puts in a solid effort over the course of six or seven years should be made partner.
  • There are firms where associates bill 1,600-1,700 hours on a regular basis, which is considered a good effort.
  • There are firms where associates are hired and almost universally encouraged to leave after five or six years of service.
  • There are firms that have been collapsing for years, but portray themselves to associates as strong and powerful.
We could go on and on. Suffice it to say, however, that your success and happiness as an attorney may have more to do with your thoughtful and intelligent decision to join a firm that best fits you culturally than with your legal skills. People simply want to be around people they like, and when people like each other, there is a lot of benefit that comes to both sides of the relationship.

OBSERVATION 1:
 
  • We all have certainly heard of how Albert Einstein flunked out of grade school. Perhaps Einstein was too concerned with the theoretical rather than the practical. Whatever the reason, Einstein simply did not experience success in the environment he was in at the time because the school, and the people in it, could not understand where he was coming from. Do the attorneys in your firm understand where you are coming from? In the law firm environment, when an attorney and the firm see eye to eye, success is far more likely than in situations where they do not.