Defining Your Firm’s Culture: Why It’s Important & How to Do It
Every legal professional knows the importance of branding, yet few firms do it successfully. Determining your brand and internal culture is no easy task, but it is essential if you want your firm to thrive.
Mari-Anne Kehler, chief marketing and strategy officer at the Los Angeles accounting and consulting firm Green Hasson Janks, has spent her career guiding professional service firms in refining their brands. She joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast to discuss four reasons why developing firm culture is important, which we’ve outlined below.
- Creating a living, breathing visioning process
Anyone who’s ever worked in the professional world has, at one point or another, contributed to a strategic planning process, only to see the resulting document tucked away in a drawer until it’s time to revise it again a year later. Completing a visioning process is a big undertaking, so it’s no wonder why busy lawyers only want to think about it when absolutely necessary. If your business plan is gathering dust somewhere, you’re doing a disservice to your firm.
Instead, firms should have living, breathing visioning processes that inform day-to-day activities. Leadership needs to meet on a regular basis to check in on progress, collaborate and challenge each other to keep striving for their goals. These check-ins are also an opportunity to test new ideas and incorporate industry changes into the strategic plan in real time.
This visioning process is also critical for branding. A vision statement isn’t just a sentence or two; it’s the heart of your firm and is where your branding and culture flows from. A dynamic visioning process can help you refine your vision statement and, from there, transform your whole firm.
- Finding your firm’s “why”
If you stack law firms up against each other, the surface level differences often start to slip away. Firms may differ in terms of size, practice area or industry focus, but essentially they all do the same thing: offer legal services. The one thing that can differ? Why each firm exists. Every lawyer has different goals and driving forces that impact everything from the clients they choose to work with to the type of service they provide. Whether you know it already or not, there is a reason why your firm exists, and that reason differentiates you and your team.
Determining your firm’s “why” can be an important tipping point for your marketing and branding efforts. Green Hasson Janks went through a year-long process to identify their why, and it was tremendously helpful in differentiating them from their competitors. It also facilitated the hiring process. Being able to tell the story of why your firm exists and lay out exactly what sets you apart from others helps attract top talent. Your why impacts everything you do, so figuring out what it is can only serve to improve your firm.
- Developing your firm culture
Firm culture isn’t a campaign or a tagline. Culture won’t magically arise from a website redesign or new logo. Although many firms default to these tactics, they aren’t sustainable; they’re just ways to gloss over inauthenticity. Culture goes much deeper, and developing it takes a dedicated commitment from leadership with guidance from the CMO or head of marketing. Sometimes, it means deviating from the plan or putting the brakes on. For example, Mari-Anne had to convince leadership at her own firm to put a website redesign on hold until they understood their brand from the ground up.
Therefore, hiring an outside branding consultant isn’t always the best option. Although skilled professionals can help, they’re only effective when leadership is prepared to take a close look at its values and make hard decisions if necessary. An outside consultant can’t force you to fundamentally change the way your firm operates — that’s up to you.
- Seeing marketers as firm leaders
Doing marketing, branding and business development well takes skill, experience and critical thinking. It’s a science and an art, just like practicing law. Unfortunately, some firms don’t recognize this. Lawyers are considered “professional” and everyone else, including marketers, are “admin.” This is a shame, because if you’re hiring marketing rock stars, they’re also highly trained professionals — and if you embrace their talents, your marketing efforts will be that much better.
For marketing and branding strategies, investments and initiatives to succeed, they must exist within firm priorities, not in addition to them. If the CMO or head of marketing isn’t being invited to the leadership table, it can be difficult for them to do their job to the best of their ability. However, when the marketing team can work together with leaders across all areas of the firm, it supports all other activities, from hiring and retention to client conversion and service.