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6th Sense

Law firms: does culture eat strategy for breakfast?

August 2015 | Culture, Law, Sectors

For law firms, does Peter Drucker’s quote really ring true?  Or is it simply that strategy still trumps culture in the eyes of lawyers and counsel?

It seems to depend on whom you listen to.  A panel of experts at Legal Week’s Global Independent Law Firms Forum debate recently discussed some of these issues.

On the side of culture comes Charles Martin, senior partner, Macfarlanes.

“One of the advantages that many independent and generally smaller firms have is a strong culture. Whether it’s about the way people behave, engendering an interest in a particular way of working, really listening to clients or having a tradition of mentoring. These things help to create a culture where partners also understand that the firm does not exist to distribute every penny. They understand that we need to invest appropriately for the future and we have a culture that sees the business as a continuum, and they want to leave it in a better shape for future generations.”

Christopher Digby-Bell, deputy chairman and general counsel, Palmer Capital hit back:

“I don’t care how you run your IT systems. I equally don’t care if you are an ABS and you choose to share your profits in a different way to the traditional law firm model, and I don’t really care about your culture – I care about getting the best-quality advice at the best price.”

The seismic changes in the legal world has meant that law firms have had to do ‘strategy’, but not necessarily with a great deal of success if Digby-Bell’s opinions are shared by in-house counsel.  “There is absolutely no differentiation in the market at all – you all look the same.”

So can culture be the difference?

Only if it’s looked in these terms.  It’s the way of building and sustaining a firm that is greater than the sum of its experts.  A great culture can build the right commercial skills, drive collaboration, grow innovation, drive down costs and deliver great results.  Fundamentally, cultures are about being inclusive rather than exclusive – and perhaps that’s where some law firms and some lawyers struggle…

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