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Empower your employees: how to build an agile, digital-first culture (in a law firm)


Joanna Gaudoin shares her thoughts on how modern law firms can build an agile, digital-first culture that empowers employees to improve long-term success.

I was delighted to take part in the third episode of Osprey Approach’s second series of webinars, which are designed to help modern law firms Build Better Habits. I was joined by two other panellists - Chris Bull, author of The Agile Law Firm and consultant at Edge International, and Lindsey Dewart, practice manager at Thomas Flavell & Sons Solicitors.

Our host for the session was Amy Bruce, head of marketing at Osprey Approach, who invited us to share our practical tips and experiences of how SME law firms can build a culture that empowers their employees.

Why having a common purpose is key

There are many attributes that make up an agile law firm but your clients should be your number one priority. Firms need to work on client relationships continuously to make sure they remain loyal. This starts with a brilliant service, which includes the outcomes you deliver and how you deliver it.

We all agreed that having a common purpose, firm-wide, is crucial to building an agile law firm that empowers employees, which can help determine how people should behave and what to expect.

Having a common purpose eliminates the typical office politics that many businesses deal with. I do a lot of work with lawyers – and other sectors – on navigating office politics. And essentially office politics occurs when we don’t understand people’s motives.

It’s understandable that - as people with different backgrounds, beliefs, values, assumptions - we’d approach things differently. But this can be a big danger when there’s change coming. However, a common purpose and value set can help determine how people should behave and what to expect.

Navigating change management

We agreed that feedback is key when navigating change management; it’s important that law firm leaders plan how they’re going to get a broad range of feedback, not just comments from the loudest people in the group.

My recommendation is that firms ask, ‘what’s in it for me?’ In other words, what’s in it for the people you’re introducing change to, including employees and clients. So when you’re communicating or are in training, you have a sales job to do.

We have a big attendance issue with training, so it’s about making people care and selling how this will make life easier.

The eight habits that law firms should adopt

Chris, Lindsey and I agreed that modern law firms should focus on eight key habits to help them unlock an agile, digital-first culture, which is built on trust: -

1.       Embrace tech & automation

Lindsey explained how Thomas Flavell actively reviews and invests in technology and warned that most firms are moving forward with technology, so it’s important to keep up so your firm isn’t left behind.

2.       Lead by example

Buy-in from the management team is important if you want agility and digital to become part of the culture. Lindsey stressed that the senior team need to lead by example and that management need to be aware of the technology that is out there and actively discuss it with staff.

3.       Continuously learn and adapt

Having an agile, digital-first culture requires more than just a one-time project; it has to be nurtured and encouraged. Lindsey shared that whilst change can be hard, continuing to foster the culture and encourage adaptation is the biggest challenge.

4.       Review existing tech

Chris highlighted that being digital-first isn’t about buying the latest, newest system, it’s about utilising tech to your advantage. He advised to look at your existing technology and ask: ‘what can it do? What’s changed? What are we not using? What could we do better?’ It’s important to review what you’ve already invested money and time in.

5.       Ask questions

Both Chris and I highlighted the important of feedback. Firms should constantly ask questions of their employees and clients; feedback should be part of your process so it becomes a habit. I pointed out that the feedback needs to be genuine so that, where necessary, change can be implemented.

6.       Give time back

Chris advised that firms should work really hard to give staff – particularly lawyers – time back; reduce the admin burden and make life easier. It’s not a lot of time but it’s easy to find a way.

7.       Build trust

My number one habit is building trust. I advised that firms ensure they have trust built between employees and clients, enabling them to conduct projects and changes successfully.

8.       Make it easy

Don’t assume the success of any new process or system. I suggested that firms ensure any change is easy to use in reality. Consider how people are going to use it – whether that’s clients or staff – and how will it affect everyone’s daily life.

Communication, honesty, and a common purpose empowers employees

To build trust you need honesty between parties. This requires people delivering on what they say they will and having each other’s back in meeting the common goal.

For more exclusive advice and guidance on building an agile and digital-first culture, you can watch the full episode, free and on-demand. Chris, Lindsey and I share our experiences and knowledge of building a successful modern law firm, including where to start if you’re looking to build a more agile and empowered team.