When you focus on building a strong work culture, you can become a high-performance legal team. That’s what Benjamin Sachs argues in his new book “All Rise: Practical Tools for Building High-Performance Legal Teams.”
Benjamin sits down with Liel in a profound discussion that analyzes current misconceptions and structural problems with work culture that prevent law firms from becoming high-performance teams. Taking from his experience working in Big Tech companies, Benjamin offers a systematic approach to team-building that starts with building trust and encouraging vulnerability.
As we transition from a post-COVID environment and return to our offices, Benjamin encourages lawyer CEOs to reflect on their work culture and prioritize team-building for more collaborative and productive law firms.
Resources mentioned in our episode:
- Buy “All Rise: Practical Tools for Building High-Performance Legal Teams” on Amazon
- Check out the book’s toolkit
- Work with The Landing Group, Benjamin’s business consulting firm
- Connect with Benjamin on LinkedIn
Let us know that you enjoy the show by subscribing and leaving us a review! Don’t forget to send us your questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Liel: [00:00:00] According to the 2022 report on the state of the legal market, law firms were close to losing a quarter of their associates last year. This high turnover leads to many more problems, such as significantly less billed hours per attorney, low motivation and higher compensation. I’m Liel Levy, co founder of Nanato Media and author of Beyond Se Habla Español How Lawyers Win the Hispanic Market. And this is in Camera podcast, where we know team members are not only driven by top pay increases. Welcome to In Camera Podcast, Private Legal Marketing Conversations. Grace is not going to be joining us today. She’s out on her company retreat, but we still have a great conversation for you today. Today, we are lucky to welcome Ben Sachs. Ben is an expert in management strategy and negotiation. He teaches at the University of Virginia School of Law and provides consulting and training services to a wide range of government and private sector organizations around the world. He recently published the book All Rise Practical Tools for Building High Performance Legal Teams. Ben, great to have you here. Tell us, where does this podcast find you?
Ben: [00:01:37] Oh, it’s great to be here. I’m right now I’m in Falls Church, Virginia, working out of my home today, which is a lot of fun to be just outside D.C., in the suburbs, get a little grass and look outside and my window as I talk to you.
Liel: [00:01:48] Yeah, it is a beautiful area. I myself lived in Arlington, Virginia, for a few years and I’m from one of my favorite times in the year was around kind of like the fall. And it’s just lovely. It’s a great time in the year right before it gets too cold for it to be fun.
Ben: [00:02:05] Yes, my kids definitely are aware of how cold it’s getting, so I appreciate that very much.
Liel: [00:02:09] Yeah, absolutely. Well, thank you so much for joining us for a conversation. And first and foremost, congratulations on the release of your book, All Rise Practical Tools for Building High Performance Legal Teams, which was just released on November 15. And I must say I already saw it ranking there on number one for many different categories in Amazon. So congratulations. What an accomplishment.
Ben: [00:02:32] Thank you. It’s been really exciting. It’s been a big team helping support it as well and a lot of clients and colleagues. So it’s really been fantastic. It’s a it’s a lot of work to get it out. You know, you look at books and you think, Oh, anybody can do that, boy, you really need a team behind you. So I’m really grateful for that.
Liel: [00:02:47] Yeah, well, we’re so glad to have you here and to have a conversation because you have a very unique career. You’re basically a lawyer, but you developed a career in business consulting from very early on. And so why don’t you tell us a little bit about the story of you making that decision, right, either while you were still in law school or coming out of law school and kind of like understanding that you maybe wanted to explore a different path?
Ben: [00:03:17] Yeah, I certainly had a circuitous route. I mean, I left law school wanting to be a trial lawyer. I had done mock trial in college. I loved it. We were really competitive. And then I got in the real world and realized, you know, lawyers don’t go to trial that often, certainly not as much in private practice. And there are many exceptions. But most of the trial law happens in prosecutors offices in other areas. Big law doesn’t do a lot of that. Right. We settle our cases. So I started thinking about it and said, you know, what do I like about trial law? Let me abstract that a little bit and see if maybe there’s another path where I get what I enjoy. And it turned out what I really liked is working in a team. I liked dealing in environments where you don’t have enough time to do it perfectly. So as opposed to legal research and writing where the brief you’ve got weeks to work on it in trial, when you’re going up the next day and you get a curveball, you’ve got to roll with it. I like that aspect of trial law and we sort of follow this train of thought for a while and you realize, you know, business consulting has a lot of these elements.
Ben: [00:04:12] You’re focused on getting decisions, not perfection. You’re working in a team. And for me, I also enjoy the quantitative aspects. I’d sort of lost that from from law. So I gravitated towards the business side, did consulting for a bit before I switched gears again and went to a tech company. And there I oversaw the legal work, but also marketing and product and analytics and customer service and, and, and and that was the best experience. I mean, to realize there are so many things that I didn’t learn in law school that actually I had to unlearn or relearn as I got into the business world. So as I start to think about my legal career, I thought, wow, if I had if I looked back and I had these tools for not just think about business, but thinking about running teams and taking those tools back to when I started my career at Sidley Austin way back after law school, I would have done things so differently. And that’s really what spurred me to write this book.
Liel: [00:05:05] If I had to count the number of times that I’ve had professionals like you that went to law school that come here and say they don’t teach you this in law school, right. We could probably feel an entire season just about conversations that touch on this topic. And you’re right now teaching at the university, right? You’re actually teaching in law.
Ben: [00:05:25] I teach at a law school, so you could almost throw this back at me and say, why aren’t you teaching this? Right?
Liel: [00:05:30] This is the funny. That’s exactly what I was going to do. I mean, honestly, like, would you? And not in that way. I wanted to ask you, are we like, just get me an update here because are we doing better now? Are we actually teaching in law schools today how to be better prepared to run a business?
Ben: [00:05:47] So yes and no. I mean, some law schools do a better job at this than others. I teach at UVA law schools in the sort of top ten law schools. And I will say top ten law schools, I don’t think do a great job of this. And there’s a lot of reasons that I think law schools are still biased in favor of what they think of as more. Academic law. So having more experts that can speak to very specific substantive areas of law is really important. It’s also how US News and World Reports thinks they get employment, but they also think in terms of professors and research. So because of all those biases, a lot of law schools still do not favor practical skills courses. They have those courses because they’re in demand by students. And I teach several of those courses myself at UVA Law school. But I think on the business side, where you see the most success is when schools pair up with their business schools. So UVA does have some of that. They’ve got a good business school and so they pair up with the Darden School of Business and they do some courses that way. But but if all of this pales in comparison to how business schools think about a holistic curriculum, let me just explain what I mean by that. In law school, practical skills courses, there are a couple, maybe public speaking course, maybe a negotiation course, business schools, even aside from core business curriculum, there are so many other practical skills courses like management courses. You will not find a management course at most law schools, period, let alone a myriad of different management courses you’ll see at business schools. So there is a big gap that little schools have to fill.
Liel: [00:07:10] I just think right now and just, you know, after going through your book and such, you know, a lot of what you talk about is is is culture right? And because you were exposed also to to the tech industry and how tech companies build their teams and how culture is such a central element. Right? People really they don’t just work for a company. They kind of like reshape their lives to surf to that company, Right? That’s kind of like the way that tech companies are inspiring a generation of professionals that come and join their team and they really become devotees to the company. Right. And we see that every single time. We just see we just saw it now a month ago or so in Twitter with all the all, all all of these layoffs and how deeply some of these employees cared about the company and such. Right. And so obviously, when you take that and you’re putting it in comparison to the culture that exists in a law firm, we’re not coming even close to that.
Ben: [00:08:12] I find that really funny, actually, because with law firms, they have so many law students and lawyers think of law firms. This is a fungible way. And then within law firms, they often think that culture is so squishy, there’s really nothing we can do. There are a lot of folks that just don’t understand systematically how to build a culture. And yet, outside of the legal industry, there are so many best practices, there are so many great examples. Many of the companies you just mentioned when I was in tech, we were competing with other tech companies for talent and we knew we had to be systematic in how we built our culture because that is what our software engineers are going to want. Our analysts are going to want, our marketers are going to want. And so trying to think through that and applying it to law firms, we could take those tools back. And that’s I just did a seminar at a at a conference for professional development folks at law firms, and we’re talking about this issue. What can we learn from other industries to make our law firms better? The value is right there to grab on to.
Liel: [00:09:06] And what are some of those things?
Ben: [00:09:08] Well, so when I think about building a strong culture at a law firm, the first thing I always say is we have to start with a systematic approach because understandably, if you don’t have a systematic approach, then it all feels squishy, right? And no one knows what to do. So if you’re if you want to have a structured approach, the one I use in my book is based on four key traits of high performance teams. So trust you need trust. It’s a first and foremost. Then you can have ownership, right? If I trust that people have my back, if I trust that I can be honest, then I’m willing to step outside of my silo and take ownership. If I have ownership, then I care enough to have conflict and conflicts. The third trait, which gives us the willingness to engage others. And when we engage others, then we can hold them accountable. So trust, ownership, conflict, accountability. Those are the four traits we’re going to build our team structure around, build our culture around. And so if you take those traits and start to think about how can we identify the gap between where we are now and where we want to be on each of those four, suddenly you can think about training differently, performance reviews differently, recruiting values and so on. But if without that systematic approach, it all kind of falls apart, you’ve nothing to hold on to, you know, sort of backbone to your training curriculum and how you structure your teams.
Liel: [00:10:20] As I’m pretty sure you’re very aware, I would say over the past 3 to 4 years, the whole conversation about culture in the legal industry has kind of like gotten a lot of attention. You have many lawyers right now writing books and teaching how to be a leader, how to be a CEO, and not just a lawyer. Right? You have lawyers who are stepping out of the of the whole legal side of the business so that they can focus in running their organizations like a Fortune 500 company would run their own business. Right. So that’s becoming. A very popular and talked about trend. Now, one of the things that I hear a lot is that it all starts with recruitment. It all starts with having the right people in your team. And it almost sounds and I’ve sat at conferences and heard lawyers over and over and over again, kind of like being this mindset of like, you almost need to start from scratch, fire everyone in your team and then rehire the right people, because if not, you’re going to be stuck forever. Now, obviously that’s an extreme right. That’s not the only way that you can build trust and to set the foundation. Yes, but why do you think there’s been such a challenge for law firms to overcome those difficulties, to to kind of bring in house these four elements that are going to be crucial to becoming a high performing team?
Ben: [00:12:05] There’s a lot of good questions that get asked around this theme of like, why are lawyers bad at this? And it’s not universal. We don’t generalize too much, but there are lots of problems in our industry with this. Well, one answer could be personality assessment data around lawyers. There was some research done by Larry Brown, who studies lawyers and personality behavior and is done a lot of studies over 20 years with personality assessments with lawyers and non lawyers. And he had really interesting data he was just presenting at a conference last week. He said, look, if you look at the Caliper profile, which measures like 21 different personality traits, any population, you expect them to score roughly on average population, any population in on average they should be in the average range, which means like 40 to 60% on every on every trait. Lawyers, when he gives them the same tests on average, they score outside of that 40 to 60% range on seven out of 21 traits, seven different 21 traits where lawyers are outside the norm. And those traits, I’ll tell you some of them, they give you a hint as to why maybe lawyers have a little trouble with this. So, for example, they tends to have a they tend to have a high desire for autonomy, high natural skepticism, high sense of urgency, high abstract reasoning, but low sociability, low resilience, meaning sort of thin skinned and low cognitive empathy, which means trouble stepping into someone else’s shoes.
Ben: [00:13:29] Now, that may sound like a lot of generalizations, and it is, but the idea is that if you put a lot of people together who have somewhat similar personality traits like this and you say, hey, let’s talk about culture, that skepticism gets triggered, right? That desire of saying, wait, I don’t want to put myself in someone else’s shoes here. I’m focusing on my work. I’m focusing on what I need to do to serve my clients. Right. My billable hours. You suddenly get that retreat into the self that makes people say, You know what, I don’t know about this culture stuff. I just want people that do great work who love to think through legal research and writing, who love to find the right answer. That’s not necessarily the same skill set you need for someone to build a team. Now, those people can make great team members and they can make great managers, but may not be intuitive. So that’s why we need these kinds of resources. Let’s think through a structure for building stronger teams. Let’s think of the tactics. There’s absolutely no reason why a lawyer can’t be an incredible leader. They just need a systematic approach. And the same is true for software engineers. Everyone else. But lawyers have just tended to have trouble with this stuff over the years.
Liel: [00:14:27] And what would be a reasonable way to want to approach this in a way of solving that? So in your book, you it seems like you talk a lot about empathy, right? About being able to connect with the people that you work day in, day out, at a way that goes above just the transactional things, in a way that you can open up a space for both sides to be vulnerable. And why do you think that’s so, so important and so important and so critical? That and also, if I may throw in there, understanding the different preferences in in different work styles, the different personalities may have.
Ben: [00:15:11] Yes, a vulnerability is really important. And a lot of people get a little bit squeamish when you talk about vulnerability. And so let me explain why it’s important and I’ll use data to do it because this isn’t just, oh, it makes us feel good and it’s nice to talk in these sort of subject matter. Google went and studied what made their teams perform the best. They studied over 100 of their own teams and they try to figure out what makes a strong team. And they thought it would be things like some correlation of GPAs and university pedigree and so on. And it turned out none of that stuff mattered. In fact, personality styles didn’t matter either. The biggest predictor of what would make a high performance team hit its goals was whether that team had psychological safety. So psychological safety means the willingness to be honest with each other and knowing that if you make a mistake, if you ask for help, others aren’t going to judge you for it. That is psychological safety and that is critically important to performance. The data is there. It shows us that not just Google studies but others as well. So you have to start with building trust. You have to start with some measure of vulnerability, because if lawyers aren’t willing to say, hey, I need help or even put themselves out there, hey, I have feedback for you, which requires vulnerability because I don’t want you to judge me as being rude because I had some feedback. Right? These are all difficult conversations to have. If I’m not willing to have that vulnerability on my team, how are we going to even get to the next level here? How are we going to give each other feedback? How are we going to do all the other things we want to do as a team? It all starts with trust and having that psychological safety.
Liel: [00:16:43] You know, the legal industry is so big and diverse. Right. And I’d like to segment it here into two different categories. One of the corporate law, big organizations, the biggest law firms here in the nation, and then the consumer focused law firms, which tend to be smaller. Right. And I really, really would love to know who’s doing better at building strong performing teams. Is it the big corporate law or are the smaller, more in touch with the average consumer type of law firm?
Ben: [00:17:20] I think that big law firms struggle with it more because of the high pressure demands that they have there, both from clients and from the partners themselves and those who are leading the firms. That can make it harder. I mean, the the more time constraints you have, the more pressure you have in your work, the easier it is to set aside the plumbing of how this team is going to operate. You sort of ignore that and you just keep your head down and stay focused on the work. That isn’t how you build a strong team. You have to actually focus on the team itself. So by that metric, I think you’d say big law struggles with this more. That being said, look, I think that the biggest issue is whether the the team leader has the flexibility to manage that team the way the team leader wants. So smaller firms, sometimes you get a little more flexibility. So if you have an approach to manage that’s really successful, you’re not going to be boxed in by the infrastructure of the firm. You’re going to be allowed to lead your team the way you see fit.
Ben: [00:18:14] But the truth is, big law has that, too, in a lot of ways. I mean, I joke in the book that one of the partners told me, Look at this firm. Partners are like feudal lords. As long as we pay our tribute to the king, we can do whatever we want within our fiefdoms. I mean, that is how a lot of law firms are run. That’s good and bad, right? It’s good if you’ve got a great leader because you can run your team as you see fit. But it’s bad in the sense that when a team leader doesn’t know what to do, they tend to just recycle their own bad habits. So we really need these tactics. You know, I barely even scratch the surface yet of actual tactics. We’re just sort of identifying the problem. But there are a set of tactics they need to be using in their firms, whether they’re big teams or small teams, in order to make real movement on these traits of high performance teams.
Liel: [00:18:54] You know, as we were just mentioning a few questions back in, talking about how tech does things and how they’re able to be high performing teams. One of the things that is very common to see in tech companies is that the founder right, the visionary, the person that put together the initial foundation in which a company gets built, oftentimes step aside and say, I’m not the right person to lead this organization and bring other people to. Help with the things that they lack, the skills or their ability to execute at the level that the company now demands. Right.
Ben: [00:19:34] Or you see the worst else. You know, you get plenty of stories of that, too. But sure.
Liel: [00:19:38] Yes, you do see that, right? Sure. Absolutely. But you also have the other way around where a board needs to basically make that decision on behalf of the of the founder. Nevertheless, in the legal industry, because of the model that we’ve retained up until now, which we’re going to get into non lawyer owned firms, which is where we’re heading to and the future, we are still seeing kind of like the traditional model being kept pretty much all the time. You have the founder, partners, managing partners and they’re kind of like the big bosses, right? And the success of the organization is pretty much going to be relying on their ability to adopt a lot of the things that you are mentioning here and advocating for here at And so would you think that that slightly outdated model is in many ways what has stopped the legal industry from really matching up many other industries? We can mention, for instance, the medical health care up to a certain extent of reaching certain levels of efficiencies and of team performance against what’s currently happening.
Ben: [00:20:52] It’s an interesting way to frame it. I mean, I think that there are definitely managing partners out there, heads of law firms and heads of general counsel and companies who do get it. And the nice thing is that with a heavily hierarchal model, if someone at the top really gets it, they can push it down. But I think that there is a I mean, I think there’s a real structural problem most law firms have with culture, which is it’s just this hands off approach. So I don’t know about the comparison to the medical field. I mean, when I work in tech, when I see visionaries as sometimes these visionaries are very culturally sensitive and thoughtful and focused, and sometimes they’re not. As you mentioned, they say, look, let me step aside and and have a head of operations is going to think more about that implementation. I do agree that law firms, since they tend not to have that view, although I am seeing law firms increasingly do that. I’m seeing, you know, a head of a practice group, but then they have a number two and then number two is in charge. More of thinking about how the team is being operated, what is our workflow, how do we recruit and retain people. So I’m starting to see more hybrid versions of that pop up here and there. Now, whether they have the tools they need to execute that job effectively, that’s a different question, but I’m starting to see more of those structures pop up even in law firms.
Liel: [00:22:06] And when you think about the future of the legal industry, as we are entering a time in which law is changing and it’s now possible for non lawyers to invest and own law firms, right, as we’re seeing in Arizona, as it’s been possible in DC for some time. How do you see the industry changing in light of all of this? Do you foresee that there is going to be a disruption from other sectors that are going to come in kind of like reorganize the legal industry as we know it?
Ben: [00:22:45] It’s a very interesting question. So I teach professional responsibility, UVA law, and this question comes up a lot about what about non-lawyers owning law firms and for the exact reasons you mentioned the states you mentioned that are innovating and you’re seeing in the UK they do this as well. I personally am a big fan of that. I think that future is really important. I think of it more as a disruption for the folks who are trying to get clients. I mean, if you are a smaller lawyer, you want to go out or you just graduate law school, want to get clients going out, and marketing is very, very difficult. If you could join a platform or join some kind of marketplace where you could sell services more easily, that will be great. But the platforms like Uber and other sort of marketplace driven platforms, their business models, where they take a cut that doesn’t work ethically under most state laws. And so there isn’t as much incentive for someone to come in and build a great company around a legal marketplace. So, yes, I think that disruption is really important. How will it affect teams? I mean, it’ll be interesting to see if those folks get more involved in management. I mean, so far because of the ethics issues, they are generally focusing a lot on just providing backend services. They’re really trying to avoid anything that might come close to affecting the actual practice of law. So because that sensitivity, I think it will be a while before we see it really affect law firm culture. But I’ve worked with outside counsel firms, for example, that are loosely organized, where people can work from home. They take cases that come in through the platform, so to speak, and they’re they’re diced up and they’re they don’t really think about culture. They think of themselves more solo operators who sit inside a network. Maybe that’s kind of the opposite of culture. And so, you know, I don’t know. I think it could go both ways. That’s a tricky one to feel out what the future holds there.
Liel: [00:24:27] How do you advise your students on this topic, on the future of where the legal industry is? Because it’s changing, right, and the legal landscape as we know it now, by the time that they start practicing and such may have already shifted through a different direction. So how do you mentor them on on preparing for what’s to come?
Ben: [00:24:47] Well, what I advise them is that inside the practice of law, there are a lot of people to your left and right who are really good at the legal stuff. If you want to build a really strong career, you can’t just do it by being an expert in the legal stuff. There’s just no such thing as just being a lawyer anymore. You’ve got to be good at client building. You’ve got to be thoughtful about marketing your practice. You have to be thoughtful about building your teams because the leverage you get as a lawyer, particularly if you’re trying to build a firm, right, the ability for you to create profit comes from leverage. That famous leverage ratio I should bring in work and that creates associates doing work and their junior associates create work. That’s ultimately how we build a profitable, scalable practice. So what I advise my law students is, yes, of course you want to focus on keeping your your writing skills up, your litigation skills up, your transactional deals, make sure you understand the nuances and the technical expertise you need. That stuff’s really important, but it’s table stakes, meaning it is the minimum to get a seat at the table. You still need to be good at the rest of it and to distinguish yourself in a crowded field with very competitive other lawyers, you need to be able to build a strong team.
Ben: [00:25:51] It is the number one differentiator I see between the juggernaut lawyers and the ones who just end up kind of being the workhorse lawyers, the ones who get handed work, they do the work and hands it back. There’s nothing wrong with that job, but a lot of lawyers don’t find that especially fulfilling. They want more. Well, I tell them, if you want more, if you want to have more impact on your clients, you want those deeper relationships, impact on your firms and organizations. You want to have that influence. You need to learn how to deal with the teams and the infrastructure of that business, of that organization. And that is a completely different skill set than we’re teaching you in law school. So if you think, Oh, that’s just fluffy stuff, it’s not. There are structured approaches to these things and if you take those structured approaches to heart and iterate on them and practice them, you can be a truly incredible stand out attorney. You just have to be ready to put in the work.
Liel: [00:26:40] Do you think having exposure to work outside of the legal industry professionally is good consideration?
Ben: [00:26:50] Yes, I think it’s a huge advantage if you have that. I know a lot of lawyers will say the same thing. If I were back at my law firm today, having spent a few years outside of my law firm, I would have gone back and done things differently. But for a lot of lawyers, that’s not especially realistic. I understand that. I understand that most lawyers, they feel a sense of safety sticking in the legal field. And I get that. That’s how I entered the law. I didn’t expect to go in and then kind of come out and go back in. But I think that if you look at other practice areas, other other fields entirely, like those who graduated business school, they are reminded over and over that your career could take you anywhere. And they actually do Lawyers. We tell lawyers your career could take you anywhere. But most lawyers tend to be pretty risk averse. Their peers are risk averse. When you are surrounded by a group of people who want to stay in the law, you’re probably not going to see a lot of great examples of people leaving successfully and trying those new things. So all that’s going to keep you in check. You’re not surrounded by peers saying, Oh, I went to business consulting or Oh, I went in-house and tried this completely different area for a bit. That’s a little bit more rare. So, yes, I’d love to get people to take on more of that experience. I don’t think it’s terribly likely. And so instead what I’d say is if that’s not for you okay but read outside of our industry, don’t just look for best practices at law firms. You’re not always going to find the best practices at law firms. Look at tech companies, read books about leadership from outside of our field. Try to expand your mind and your skill sets so that when your clients come to you, you have a more holistic understanding of their business. You haven’t just been trained and live your entire career inside the legal silo.
Liel: [00:28:26] When you look at the generation of new lawyers, right, that is graduating now fresh out of law school, do you feel that they have a greater sense of awareness about everything that it takes to be a better business owner, a better leader to your team? Do you think that just in general, the times in which we live, the social awareness that we have about mental health, about new technologies and the ability to not necessarily work in a more traditional way where you need to be inside a law firm 8 hours or live alone 8 hours, 12 hours a day doing siloed work on cases and such. Do you think that that is going to translate into the way that these younger generations are going to be running their law firms are going to be building your teams? Do you feel that we’re going to be transitioning into a new model of law firm eventually just because of the way that times are going to impact the new model of a law firm?
Ben: [00:29:26] Yeah, I mean, there are two trends that are really affecting things. One is the post COVID return to work issue that you highlighted, and the second is that this generation, more than ever before, wants a sense of purpose and meaning in their work. And that’s not entirely new. But you’ve seen that trend more and more and more people don’t just want a job. They want a career where they feel some connection to a bigger picture. Doesn’t always have to be social good, but often is. It could just be really feeling in tune with our clients needs. So just taking that example, that means that people are going to want more client interaction earlier in their career than ever before. They want to feel that connection. And on the Return to Work piece, yeah, this generation and myself included, I don’t know if I would count myself in that generation per se, but I certainly have a connection to the idea that work from home can be really valuable and the older generation of lawyers is much more skeptical of that. So they are struggling mightily with this. And I talked to heads of law firms all the time where they’re saying, how do I deal with this? I need people to come into the office to build a collaborative environment, to build team culture. How do I do that? They don’t want to come in the office and we have a long conversation about what that means. So I’ve got you can imagine I’ve got a lot of views on this, but the more and more pressures from this new generation of lawyers to adapt and when they make that adaptation because the market is demanding it, what that means for law, firm culture and for how we serve our clients, how we create work life balance, I think a lot of those pressures are going to have their way with those different dimensions of being in a legal practice today for sure.
Liel: [00:30:51] I had a whole set of questions that were related, particularly to the way that the pandemic impacted, the way that law firms are run and the way that they organize work and such, and also culture, right? Because even those who have adapted and said, okay, fine, we’re not going to we’re not going to go anymore to an office to work. We’re going to continue work, we’re going to continue working remote. But my question is, you know, looking at this new model where assuming that remote work is possible thing, how do you think that having that model can impact in the way of sustaining culture?
Ben: [00:31:27] So the biggest problem in trying to create a strong culture with this remote or hybrid work is that when you’re in the office you have a built in backstop. If the culture is breaking down, there’s somebody you can turn to right behind you who can kind of keep you embedded, keep you connected, right? So serendipity is the reason that a lot of culture is in law firms were built. If I have a question, I can tap someone on the shoulder. If I’m not sure about my career path, there’s probably a happy hour and I can chat with a partner. And those connections happen so much more organically. And then people say, Oh, well, because of that, now that we’re in this remote and hybrid environment, I guess I, I can’t create that kind of culture and therefore I need to get everyone back to the office. That is not the case. And there’s a huge problem with that mentality. One is that you’re never building a culture with having people in the office. It’s just it’s just that you are. Lack of attention to culture was papered over by the fact that people are close enough together that they kind of help each other out. So you never really had a great approach to team culture. You were letting serendipity do the work. That is not a good way to build a sustainable culture. It’s not scalable. Every every region of a big law firm has different cultures, every office, every practice group.
Ben: [00:32:35] This is a mess. So now that we’re sort of remote and hybrid in a lot of places, to me it seems like a great opportunity because now you say, Look, we need to be way more intentional, way more intentional in how we build our culture. We need to document what is our culture look like at this firm, what differentiates us from every other law firm out there. And the same thing is true, by the way, for internal organizational general counsel practices, right? They need the same kinds of skill sets, same kind of thoughts. So if we’re going to build a culture systematically, we definitely need to do so in remote and hybrid environments, much more thoughtful, much more tactical. And then we need to give the managers a serious level of accountability for making that happen. So we say to managers, Your job is to run this team. That means ensuring there are some kinds of social connections on this team that they care about each other, not just the work that they feel, a sense of mentorship, they feel a sense of autonomy. So it’s not just did they produce the work today, it’s is your team functioning at a high level based on all these key traits? So if we give them that responsibility, if we take a much more intentional approach to team management, I think the hybrid work is going to create this tremendous opportunity in this resurgence of culture because they’re going to realize we have to put in the work.
Ben: [00:33:43] And my biggest concern is the law firms that are saying, no, we we can’t do all that. Just put them back in the office. I was talking to a head of a law firm recently. I said, okay, you want people back in the office to improve your culture? Are you measuring culture aspects? What do you mean, culture? What do you even mean by that? And he said, Well, I want to improve collaboration. So now that people are back in the office, is collaboration higher or lower? Like where’s the metric? Well, we’re not measuring that. What are you measuring? We’re measuring whether people are in the office. So wait a minute. You want to get people back in the office to improve collaboration? All you’re measuring is whether they’re in the office. So you could say we succeeded by getting people in the office but failed on our actual collaboration goal. Like that is a total mismatch between goals and tactics and that is the kind of thing I think is really going to come to a head in the next couple of years. As law firms realize that sending people back to the office doesn’t work anymore, all they do is clock in, clock out. They don’t want to go to the happy hours. They don’t want to invest in the culture. We’ve got to be much more systematic, much more intentional if we want to get this right.
Liel: [00:34:40] So it sounds like you believe in a hybrid model.
Ben: [00:34:42] I believe it can work. I believe it can absolutely work. I can believe it can be I think it can be great differentiator for law firms that do it right. I do. I am also a pragmatist. And I do think that some law firms are not able to do this very well. So because of that, and I do advise law firms sometimes say, look, if you’re really not ready to make these investments, then you need to think about having people in the office a bit. But we need to connect our goals to the practices. So like I said, if it’s collaboration in, then don’t say, Hey, it’s free for all. Come in any day you want, because then they’re not all in the same day. Have them come in on Wednesdays and if it’s about collaboration, make sure your team meetings are on those days. Make sure you’ve got social events once a month, have a free lunch, get them in the cafeteria, and then when they’re there and eating, uses an opportunity to talk about where the firm is going and our strategy, get them invested in things. So how we use the time, the quality of that time is much more important than just having boots on the ground. So yeah, I think hybrid can work, but not every law firm is going to be able to scale out some of the practices I’ve talked about. I mean, they could if they invested, they have the money, but they just there’s so much inertia for the old ways that I would just say to them, look, we can still tailor some of the best practices from hybrid work towards your culture and figure out how to do it even when you’re in the office and your culture would be better for.
Liel: [00:35:57] Ben, this has been a wonderful conversation. And to wrap it up with a cherry on the top, we’d love to get from you three actionable takeaways and you get to choose those by not necessarily defining their level of complexity, but three takeaways that you would encourage anyone who is business owner or a lawyer, right? Leading a law firm should consider when it comes down to assessing the performance of their team and building a high performing team.
Ben: [00:36:31] Well, that’s a tough one. Just three takeaways. I don’t get 12. All right, let’s try. So I guess the first one, it really comes down to having a systematic approach. So you don’t need to think off the cuff. You don’t make this up as you go along. You sit down, you think about what makes our culture unique, what are we going for in a higher performance teams? So in my book I talk about trust, ownership, conflict and countability. That can be the backbone you can use. You’re welcome to use that or find something that works for your culture. The second is I think whatever framework you use, start with trust. People think trust is difficult to build. It takes years to do. It doesn’t have to. There are tactics for doing so. You hinted at some earlier and on my website you can find handouts and tactics for doing this. There are tactical approaches to doing this. I’m not reinventing the wheel here. Lots of people have talked about it, but you’ve got to start with building trust. That is how you build stronger teams. And I guess the third thing would be the need to iterate. So tech companies, we love talking about iteration. Law firms think of iteration as equivalent to failure, like, Oh, I tried something, it didn’t work, let’s never speak of it again. Can’t do that. We need to be willing to try things and be open with our teams. Hey, I’m trying something new. It may not work. Let’s keep at this together. Bring them in on the process. If you do that and iterate and get better, you will find a lot of success in your career.
Liel: [00:37:49] Ben, thank you so much. Wonderful takeaways. Thank you for the insights again. All right. Practical tools for building high performance legal teams will have links to the book, will have links to your consulting website. And we’ll also going to have a link to download kit right that you have available also and created to accompany your book.
Ben: [00:38:11] Yes, there’s a whole toolkit online. It’s all free with resources straight from the book you can use, including how to guide your teams and lots of tools to improve trust, accountability and so on. So really encourage people to check those out.
Liel: [00:38:22] Thank you very much for joining us. Happy holidays. And we hope to get to have another conversation with you sometime in the future.
Ben: [00:38:28] That would be great. Thanks for having me.
Liel: [00:38:33] If you like our show, make sure you subscribe. Tell your coworkers leave us a review and send us your questions at: email@example.com. We’ll see you next week.