There is an inextricable nexus, Jane Oxley believes, between optimal workplace culture and business success.
As reported in March of this year by Lawyers Weekly, the State of Small Law Australia Survey, conducted by cloud-based legal practice management software company Smokeball, found that an overwhelming majority of smaller law firms expect that profitability will increase this year, after many saw positive impacts on business revenue during the pandemic.
Such profits, however, will not come without corresponding attention to creating optimal workplace culture, says Ms Oxley, who is the CRO of Smokeball.
According to Ms Oxley, the company has “definitely noticed" a pattern from the survey, and over the years, that “firms that invest in workplace culture are also often the most profitable businesses”.
“This is because the firms that are more business-minded, more operationally minded, often look at the business holistically and see the nexus between happy staff and happy clients,” she explained.
Despite this, she said, the aforementioned research found that a concerning number of SME law firms in Australia are failing to make sufficient investments in culture as part of the business’ strategic growth.
Ms Oxley’s philosophy, she proclaimed, is that workplace culture is “at the foundation” of one’s firm.
It is, she outlined, “built into the fabric of how your business operates, how you interact as a team internally – and with your clients”.
“Your culture informs your team on what behaviours are encouraged and why; the ways that you encourage them to act in given situations,” she opined.
“Businesses who had invested in culture pre-pandemic are the ones who quickly pivoted to a remote environment. They already have teamwork, collaboration, support structures and accountability, and are likely thriving where others are struggling.”
Part of such optimal workplace culture, Ms Oxley continued, includes having better billing hygiene.
“Firms with good billing hygiene have systems in place to ensure that clients are communicated with often and clearly. This creates an environment of control and certainty which reduces stress on all staff in the firm and leads to a better workplace.”
Looking ahead, Ms Oxley said that the face of SME law has changed, and prioritising culture will have to be seen as a “huge driver” for successful businesses.
“The market for great talent is more competitive than ever; you can’t rely on being the ‘main street law firm’ anymore. This requires the approach to business to change, including deliberate focus and attention on culture,” she submitted.
“In a world that is changing faster than ever, setting up a culture that enables you to make decisions quickly, about flexible work for example, will ensure that your team and your client experience continues to shine in the future.”
Moreover, on the profitability and billing hygiene side there is “huge scope for improvement”, she added.
“I have met lawyers who have literally left the profession because they so loathed accounting for every minute of their day – they wanted to practice law, not be tied to a timesheet. New technologies, like the automatic time tracking and billing in Smokeball, are changing the face of small law and bringing firms back to the reason they studied law in the first place – to help people and to make a good living doing it.”
Ultimately, Ms Oxley surmised, “whether or not you ‘own’ your culture, you have one”, and likely it is a reflection of the firm owners’ personal values on how to treat people and what to do in a given situation.
“It flows from the top,” she concluded.
If you want people you hire to know what you expect from them, to treat your clients the way you wish them to, to have a work ethic that you respect, then I would posit that developing a deliberate culture is very worth the effort.”
The Lawyers Weekly Legal Firm of Choice Survey is now open, giving legal professionals the opportunity to confidentially say what areas their firm is responding well to – and where they could improve. The annual survey, which is partnered by Momentum Intelligence, also forms the basis for the Top 25 Attraction Firms ranking, identifying the firms legal professionals most want to work for. To take part in the survey, click here. The survey will close on 15 September.