Values aren’t worth the paper they are written on!

I love brands that have a strong, creative edge.

Those which give me an emotional kick: Bike pedals made by Speedplay or an old Parker 51.

Ask me about the values of the companies that underpin the brands and I wouldn’t have a clue.

How does this translate to the legal sector?

Well, quite simply, no client is going to buy from you solely on the basis of your values, and indeed I would be surprised if they even came into the equation (please don’t confuse this with your CSR policy).

In my 14 years of practice, having acted for FTSE 100 and private clients, I never once heard a client talk about our values.

Without going through a lengthy discursive to elucidate some of the (soft) values that are peddled, firms need to focus on the fundamentals of legal service delivery.

People buy, deal with and interact with people. In sales speak people buy from people they know, like and trust.

At a subconscious level there may be facets of your firm’s values that come out in that interplay but, let’s be honest, if you say something about being the best and delivering WOW service, then that only cuts it at a conscious level, where buying decisions don’t happen.

If you promulgate the usual message about being the employer of choice is that going to make a jot of difference to a client? You will say that they are not the intended cohort but those looking for a career with your law firm. But how far does that scale?

If you have a number of partners or individuals who don’t toe the (values) line and their (possibly) abhorant behaviour rubs off on the juniors then surely the message that you are sending out is that the values are meaningless. Or worse still you can pay lip service to them providing you are delivering on the fees.

You may not worry about this issue (you probably turn a blind eye to it) because you have contained the collateral damage but you are fooling yourself. The legal world is just like any village and word gets out, particularly for those people that may be moving from rival firms. They will or should know what they are letting themself in for. Do you honestly think that reading something on the website is going to cut it?

I am quite sure that every Managing Partner has to walk a fine tightrope in dealing with some over-enlarged egos but one person’s bad vibes travel a long way. Without wanting to embarrass anyone, I can think of quite a few partners who put the fear of God into junior fee earners and were so awkward to work with that it was a wonder they had any team at all.

Respect, kindness, truth, trust, straightforwardness, openess and transparency are just a few of the values that I would expect to form the bedrock of any half-decent firm but how many firms go so far as to monitor them top to bottom?

Can you imagine having a kindness score and seeing where partners ranked? Given how competitive they are, it might just make a small difference but of course they need to want to do it and not be told to it.

The answer: you need to understand the firm’s primary purpose.

What does it stand for?

Where do you see yourself in the market?

How do you think you are perceived by clients and prospective employees?

Unless you are reading a completely different script, you should immediately see a correlative link between your primary purpose and your values.

The bottom line is that if you have values that are meaningful, honoured and enforced then it will make the business run much more smoothly, improve productivity and bring down turnover of staff. In an age of austerity, I would have thought that all of these are massive priorities and for minimal financial investment, huge change is possible. Of course, you need to take the long view and commit to an emotional rumble.

~ JS ~