Culture of ‘hierarchy and fear’ must be discarded by law firms

By Jerome Doraisamy|26 August 2019

If law firms are to attract and maintain the right talent, there must be a cultural shift away from outdated models and movement towards greater immersion, argues one partner.

Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, Stidston Warren Lawyers partner Virginia Warren said that the new generation of lawyers wants to see a new-age workplace culture that prioritises service and inclusion, thereby fulfilling them on a personal level.

“Younger lawyers are feeling the culture clash. Given that the fear mentality restricts the flow of free thought, they are leaving major firms in droves. These young, brilliant minds are the future foundations of our legal system,” she argued.

“The present model of legal practice needs to stand up and take notice. A failure to do so will be at its peril. The foundations will crumble. They are crumbling now.”

The importance of workplace culture cannot be overstated, Ms Warren continued, noting that for too long, the energy that makes up the culture of law firms has been borne from fear, which “separates the powerful from the powerless, rendering that type of power unsustainable”.

A better approach, moving forward, is to tap into a different energy whereby inclusion is seen as paramount, and there is a movement away from the adversarial nature of such workplaces whereby there are defined winners and losers.

“This is not new, yet law firms have been left so far behind in this regard that it’s almost embarrassing,” she mused.

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“In my opinion, aside from the necessity for the hierarchical model of legal practice to be overhauled, the win-lose model in solving legal problems is also outdated. The win-lose model sets a lawyer up for a shutting down of their own human connection. We are relational beings working with relationships having human needs that fulfil us.”

For a machine, such as a law firm, to enjoy maximum power output, “all the components need to be operating effectively”, Ms Warren posited, meaning that a more immersive culture must be ingrained.

“A team is created from selecting individuals from various areas of the firm. A law firm is a fractal of the individual, the team and the entire organisation. This means that unless the individual is performing as an integrated whole, the organisation cannot benefit and its archetype remains as fractured,” she said.

“What hasn’t been recognised is that it is within the conflicts that we can find expansion, for our clients and for ourselves. Lawyers have the greatest opportunity of all to provide meaningful service…and get paid for it. We can show a client how the conflict has been of great benefit to them. Win-win! But, first, we must put our own oxygen masks on, and this also requires a culture shift in how our lawyers are trained and how we view our clients’ problems.”

She concluded: “This is not a band-aid ‘ticking wellness boxes’ approach. This is core-level restructuring. We need to grow a new model and fast.”

Culture of ‘hierarchy and fear’ must be discarded by law firms
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