What Can Law Firms Learn from "Firms of Endearment"?
There is a business trend that could revolutionize and revitalize the practice of law. A movement with many names -- including Firms of Endearment (from the book by that title), Conscious Capitalism, Compassionate Capitalism, Conscious Business, and many similar terms -- it is an integrity, values-based approach to business that has shown itself to be more profitable, while creating more loyalty and satisfaction among customers, staff and stakeholders.
The term “Firm of Endearment” (FOE) refers to a company, rather than a law firm, but many of the principles may be true for both. FOEs have a higher purpose than making money; they recognize that their stakeholders are not adversaries; rather their interests are interconnected and interdependent. FOEs also have both conscious leaders and a conscious culture.
This quote exemplifies the movement in business:
We researched hundreds of companies that people love - not just like, but love. We put them through a stringent set of screening criteria to arrive at a final set of 28 Firms of Endearment: companies truly loved by all who come in contact with them - customers, employees, suppliers, environmentalists, the community, even governments!
These companies pay their employees very well, provide great value to customers, and have thriving, profitable suppliers. They are also wonderful for investors, returning 1025% over the past 10 years, compared to only 122% for the S&P 500 and 316% for the companies profiled in the bestselling book Good to Great -- companies selected purely on the basis of their ability to deliver superior returns to investors. From: http://www.firmsofendearment.com/
Many of the challenges faced by the legal profession are addressed by the FOE approach. For example, some studies have suggested that the high rates of depression and addiction in our profession are related to a perceived lack of meaningful work and a missing sense of contribution by lawyers. Our profession’s reputation has been injured by our focus on the billable hour rather than a focus on exceptional client services and making a difference in our communities. Web-based sites for legal forms and record-breaking numbers of pro se litigants demonstrate that people believe that our profession is to be avoided, not embraced.
Imagine having a law firm that people didn’t just like or tolerate but actually could say that they loved and loved to work with and for? What if the firm were universally respected as a contribution to all its stakeholders: clients, courts, clerks, associates, partners, staff, suppliers, and the community? And what if it was possible to do this while making an even greater profit?
Where do we start? As some would say, it is simple but not necessarily easy. We are talking about a culture shift, a transformation of our way of being in the world. If partners were to engage in a soul-searching inquiry about the purpose of law, the values at the core of our profession, and their firm’s unique ways of expressing them, the profession could transform, innovate and heal, internally and externally. Lawyers could be agents of transformation and evolution in their communities, helping to solve problems and build bridges between people. We could once again be proud of belonging to a profession that includes Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and many other well-known and lesser known heroes.
An Australian tier 1 law firm has made becoming a “Firm of Endearment” the focus of their HR strategy and the goal has been endorsed by the partnership. What American firms are ready to take such a leap?
PS: And what law firms do you think those 28 FOE businesses would want to hire?