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Six habits law firms should adopt to help attract and retain talent

I was delighted to be part of this panel recently, you can read more about what was said on the important topic of retention in law firms below, in a write-up kindly collated by Amy Bruce, Osprey's Marketing Manager.

For the fourth episode of Osprey Approach’s Build Better Habits webinar series, Amy Bruce, marketing manager at Osprey, was joined by a panel comprising Joanna Gaudoin, Director at Inside Out Image, Tim Kidd, CEO at The Institute of Legal Finance & Management (ILFM), and Leah Steele, Owner of Searching for Serenity.

It was great to hear the panel sharing their ideas and practical tips on how law firms can implement an effective workplace culture that empowers employees, retains talent, and improves overall performance.

What does an ‘empower employees’ mindset mean?

The session began with Amy asking the panel what an empower employee mindset means for modern law firms. Joanna explained the importance of career development for empowerment and why employees should, “put some time in the diary every week to work on your career. It’s important that the employer is supportive of that so individuals can ask about their current skill gaps, or how they can progress.”

Tim agreed, adding that ILFM members are encouraged to “concentrate on training and qualifications, because knowledge will lead to improved confidence, and people with confidence perform their jobs better.”

Leah emphasised the importance of learning from everyone in the team: “The empower employee mindset is about unlocking the traditional hierarchy structure that says the person at the top knows more, and instead widening it out to say, ‘what do we all know?’… We can get a much richer source of information that way.”

For everyone in the firm to contribute, individuals need to feel that they are able to have difficult conversations, as Joanna pointed out, adding that “people need to feel safe to speak up about the negative stuff too.”

How a change in mindset can help with current retention and hiring challenges in the legal sector

It requires less resource to retain talent than it does to hire new, and Joanna reflected on the importance of fostering employee relationships within law firms. To implement an empower employee mindset, people often focus on others first, but Joanna highlighted the importance of looking inwards and understanding yourself. She explained that “we need to start with ourselves and understand the impact we’re having and our own strengths before we can work better with others.”

Leah said that it’s important to question existing processes when adopting a different mindset: “We need to ask the right questions like, ‘what haven’t we considered?’ There needs to be time to reflect and consider change. It’s about having a curious mindset.”

Training and skills development is key for progression, but law firm’s shouldn’t underestimate the importance of emotional development and social skills. “People need to be self-aware and consider how they’re actions are being perceived,” said Joanna. “[They need to] have self-control to make sure they don’t immediately react on anger… understand what motivates them… have empathy and be able to have difficult conversations.”


Six habits for law firms 

The panel discussed and agreed six habits that modern law firms should adopt to implement an empower employee mindset successfully.  

1.       Increase channels for feedback  

Employees need to feel safe when proving feedback, especially if it’s negative. Leah suggested having multiple options for providing feedback to encourage communication such as having “an external consultant come in, someone that’s anonymous, confidential, and removed from the environment. Allow email feedback, ask surveys, and provide anonymous structures to give people safety.” 


2.      Model the desired behaviour  

Improved human connection happens through vulnerability. Positive change is a result of curiosity. Both behaviours are needed for a more effective workplace culture. Leah said that to effect a culture shift, the desired behaviour needs to be modelled by managers: “Transparency, vulnerability, and curiosity needs to be visible. Managers should share experiences when they weren’t sure or got things wrong. You shift the culture by modelling it for others to see.” 


3.      Regular feedback

A report by LawCare showed regular ‘catch-ups’ to be the most effective support measure in law firms. Joanna said that “If you’re only giving feedback once a year it’s hard to remember what happened months ago. Feedback isn’t going to be specific enough because it’ll lack examples and clarity, and nobody can act on that.” She explained how “regular feedback will enable everyone to develop and improve.”


4.       Eliminate fear  

Tim states there’s a huge difference between respect and fear: “It’s important to eliminate fear from your culture, but it can be achieved by encouraging people to ask questions -  and the way you encourage people to ask is to say “yes” often.”


5.      Team engagement

Dedicating time to team and firm-wide engagement events, or activities, is crucial for better communication and collaboration believes Joanna, who added: “It’s how individuals will get to know each other which then helps strengthen team performance”.

6.      Genuinely listen

Joanna advised that leaders should “ask questions of [their] employees and genuinely listen to the answers, rather than listening to respond. People want to feel heard to feel part of a group, and if you’re only listening to immediately offer advice or add your opinion, employees can feel overlooked.”


Creating the right workplace culture and environment 

Ultimately, changing a firm’s culture isn’t an overnight process; it’s a gradual long-term strategy that involves a switch in mindset, success measures, and communication styles. Although it’s important that firms think about their profit margins, completing client work to a high standard, and productivity, all those things naturally improve by empowering your workforce and ensuring they feel appreciated and recognised. The other outcomes will happen automatically. 


To gain further insight and contributions from the panel, you can watch the episode on-demand now, or you can read the full webinar round-up here.  

To find out more about how successful modern law firms are building Better Business Habits, access all episodes of Osprey Approach’s webinar series here