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Summary: Find out how the clients a law firm has shape the culture of a law firm in this article.
Question: What do a firm’s clients say about the firm and its culture?
When evaluating a firm’s culture by looking at its clients, it’s important to ask: Who is the firm representing? Is the firm representing young start-ups or large companies?
Many firms represent a good mix of client sizes, types, and industries. Investigating the industries that a particular firm targets can say a lot about the firm. How risk-averse is the firm? Will the firm engage in the representation of a young company that may not be around in five years? Or will a firm forgo some immediate business in a cutting-edge industry in an effort to preserve a few solid relationships with its long-standing clients in established industries? How much of the firm’s revenue is based on any one particular client? If a law firm never permits any one particular client to comprise more than a small percentage of its overall business, you know that this firm is not willing to allow its long-term economic health to rely on that of the companies it represents. Besides the economics and strategy behind deciding which clients to represent, the type of client can affect the substance of the work and the manner in which it is expected to be carried out. Firms that represent entrepreneurial clients can be fast-paced and exciting places to work. Smaller clients may also tend to be less conservative and less institutionalized in their structures and goals and eager to employ more creative methods to meet those goals.
As firms become more institutionalized and dependent on their revenue streams from larger clients, they can become more conservative in their thinking, practicing, and advising, and certainly more risk-averse for fear of losing that client. This is when associates and partners, too, can become more conservative, and create and develop a culture at the firm where everyone is worried about saying the wrong thing. This type of culture can be good and comforting, though, for some people in that it carries a great deal of predictability.
The types of clients a firm has can help shape the culture and fabric of the firm. Of course, these observations do not apply to all firms, but it is only natural that the types and number of clients a firm has affects how it operates. The effects can be seen in the dress code a firm employs. Many law firms established a business-casual dress to attract the younger technology clients. To attract today’s dressed-down industries, some law firms encourage their lawyers to wear casual clothes to the office to “mirror” the environment of their clients so that they feel understood and “at home” when working with their attorneys. In other cases, only white shirts and ties for men are acceptable while meeting and working with clients from more hierarchical, established organizations.