Thriving in Modern Law Firm Culture

Law firms all have the same challenges – pressure from clients, new competitors entering the market, changing and complex legal problems, increasing expectations on “excellent” client service. Ask ten firms their approach to any one of these issues, and you will get 12 different solutions. So how do you, as a legal marketer, thrive in this world?

Understanding the culture and learning how to thrive in the environment is just the first step in building your legal career. Below are some tips for navigating and thriving in today’s modern law firm culture.

Follow the Platinum Rule

An updated version of the golden rule, “Treat others the way you wanted to be treated," is known as the platinum rule. Under the platinum rule, we turn this idea around and ask ourselves, how do others want to be treated? Using this lens as you build your career allows you to come from a place of empathy and understanding of your lawyers and fellow legal professionals.

Understand Your Personal Brand

You have only one chance to make a first impression, so make it a good one. We can’t control others' perceptions; however, we can control how we speak, write and look. Take the time to understand your personal brand and what you want to be known for, while still being true to yourself. We can either build on a successful first impression or spend the first six months trying to dig out from underneath the typo, missed deadline or unappreciated sarcasm.

Understand the Lawyer Personality

Dr. Larry Richard, a pioneer in the study of lawyer personality traits, compared managing lawyers to “herding cats.” To be fair, there will be times that those cats don’t want to be corralled. Most lawyers are trained to look for the weak spot in their “opponent,” and for the most part, that’s what makes them good lawyers. It’s not you; it’s the way they are trained to operate. The more you understand this and thicken your skin, the more successful you will be.

Be Open

Law firms are evolving, and so are the roles that exist within their Marketing and Business Development departments. Be open to opportunities. Many of the roles that are now common at law firms didn’t exist a decade ago. Continued evolution of our profession will inevitably usher in new opportunities. Be open to feedback. Listen to what people are saying to you. Even if their message is wrapped in barbed wire, there are still insights to be gleaned.

Learn How Compensation Impacts Culture

No two law firms have identical compensation and advancement structures; however, the culture of every law firm is impacted by their compensation models. Learn the compensation model that your firm uses and how it impacts the culture. Compensation isn’t the only thing that incentivizes lawyers, but it’s a component of what makes them strive for greatness. Understanding this will help you navigate the competitive side of law firm culture.


Look for opportunities to work with others within your own department and other professional departments, in addition to your lawyers. Even if you’re a solo marketer in a niche practice firm, there are still people with whom to work, including paralegals, secretaries, IT, administration, accounting and docketing. Actively reach out and build bridges before you need help, and look for ways you can help your peers. Remember, we are all in this together.

Be the Change

Law firms are changing faster than we can create processes or best practices, and marketers are at the forefront of that change. When leading the charge, model the behaviors you want to see, believe in the future state, and work steadily towards it. When there are setbacks, be the champion to get the team moving again, and when in doubt, channel your inner Gandhi.

Let It Go

You will not please everyone, every time. We all have bad days and make mistakes. The true test is how you learn from your mistakes and move forward. Do you shoulda/woulda/coulda yourself into premature gray hair, or do you look at what happened, take accountability for your part, identify lessons learned, and move forward? If you carry your past mistakes around like a backpack, it will slow you down in reaching both your own goals and the goals of your firm.

By Bobbie Conklin, Business Development Manager, Steptoe & Johnson PLLC and Rachel Shields Williams, Senior Manager, Experience Management, Sidley Austin LLP

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