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The 21st Century Law Firm: Still a Great Place to Work

The 21st Century Law Firm: Still a Great Place to Work?

This is certainly a burning question on every legal professional’s mind these days. The timely topic, discussed at the recent Spring Forum, offered great insight as the presenters addressed uncertainties and discussed the new direction of the legal industry.
Keynote Speaker, Meghan Hall, from the Great Places to Work Institute, set the stage for what we all aspire to create and experience in our own work place, particularly in this changing and challenging environment. With Ms. Hall's concrete and measurable ways to approach firms of all sizes, each attendee could imagine influencing their own firm's culture to become a "great place to work." As many already know, receiving the well-publicized accreditation is always extremely valuable and requires great execution. However, the benefits of a culture audit and aspiration towards the betterment of a firm's daily environment is a reward in and of itself. Ms. Hall offered statistics signifying that a firm's commitment to shift toward such affirming cultures will not only realize gains in employee satisfaction and retention, but also suggests client satisfaction and increased profitability – a powerful benchmark when making a business case to pursue such an ambitious goal. Moreover, the Great Place to Work Institute embraces the idea that a positive work environment creates a better culture and society overall.
At the conclusion of Ms. Hall's presentation, Hildebrandt’s Mike Snow took the stage as Moderator. He provided engaging context as to the current state of the legal profession as he introduced each panelist and probed for answers regarding what the future holds for our industry.
Panelist Frank “Rusty” Conner, Managing Partner of the local office of DLA Piper, recognized that the recent economic downturn was the first time the legal industry was significantly affected. Mr. Conner offered a realistic analysis of the industry’s challenges including the segmentation of the market, reallocation of hiring needs, and changes in client services accommodation. He believes that such "market" corrections were inevitable and will be sustainable. Mr. Conner remained optimistic for the future, as law firms recognize valuable lessons and leverage themselves to adopt new strategies. Proactive firms are increasingly emulating best practices of successful corporations embracing inclusion, acceptance and execution.
Also encouraging, was panelist Cathy Benton, Chief Human Resources Officer at Alston & Bird, a firm that has been listed with the Great Places to Work Institute for the past 11 years. Ms. Benton suggests that much of the industry’s reduction-in-force regarding support professionals is a direct result of the industry's ongoing adaptation of new technology. She believes that when firms “put people first” and make proactive and transparent decisions, their employees are more loyal and better prepared for change. Like many firms, Alston & Bird arranged for their deferred 1st Year Associates to provide productive assistance to the firm through pro-bono work, which enabled them to gain more experience and a greater understanding of an area of great importance to the firm - a winning scenario for all parties involved.
Panelist and Sage Solutions’ President, George Nicholson, has spent his career devoted to law firm technology and the contributions it has on a firm's productivity and profitability. Mr. Nicholson and the panel agreed that a firm’s technology resources are a key element in the satisfaction level of employees and as well as their clientele. Technology continues to play a key role in the evolution of law firms and has enormous potential to strengthen the profession with continued advancements and adaptations.
Rounding out the panel was Carol Montgomery, Director of Career Development at the George Washington University Law School, who offered tremendous insight regarding the career trajectory of future attorneys. Acknowledging that law firms are an excellent venue for new attorneys to gain access to on-the-job training with other talented legal minds, she absolutely agrees with the panel that law firms are a great place to work. Ms. Montgomery encourages legal hiring professionals to consider all aspects of each potential candidate's background, including life experiences and other professional expertise, which could prove to be most valuable. The former practice of skimming off the top is not always the best way to determine your long-term talent.
As the panel continued to delve into various subject areas, one thing remains clear: the country's recent economic challenges have not deterred the viability of law firms or the greater need for legal services. Changes in outlook and strategy, as law firms reposition and focus on proficiency, will only make the industry stronger and increase its ability to meet projected revenues and professional goals. While business objectives are secured, programs like the Great Place to Work Institute promotes firms cultures for recognizing, rewarding and accommodating the collective efforts of all the individuals who contribute to their success. Amid lessons learned and new strategies executed, the panelists concluded that the 21st Century Law Firm is not only a great place to work but an even better place to work than ever before.