You spend a LOT of time at work, and while much of your job satisfaction comes from the actual work you do, a large part of it also comes from the work culture you’re in. The term “culture fit” gets tossed around as one of the most important factors for both job seekers and employers. But, what does culture fit actually mean? How can you evaluate a law firm’s culture?
For clarification, a healthy law firm culture isn’t about everyone getting along, hanging out on the weekends together, sharing the same interests, or working exactly the same way. Studies have actually shown that the variant perspectives derived from social, racial, and gender diversity, lead to more innovation, better problem-solving, and an improved bottom-line. So a healthy culture isn’t about sameness, but rather about operating from a shared set of values. For example, one law firm may have values of being results-oriented, compassionate, and client-focused, while another values employees who are detail-oriented, respectful, and have fun.
While there is no foolproof way to determine with certainty during the interview process that a potential partnership between an employee and a law firm will work well, our tips below are a good start for evaluating culture fit during the interview process.
What Do You Read?
Before the interview, do a little online research on the law firm to learn more about their values and personality:
- Are you able to find the values, vision, and/or mission of the law firm on their website? If so, do they align with your own values and vision for your work?
- What kind of tone does the website use—is it factual and to the point, or more friendly and casual?
- On their careers page, what words do they use to describe their employees or team? What benefits or perks does the page highlight?
- Do they promote press about themselves? What do these articles say about the firm?
- Look at the leadership page and read the bios if they are there. How does what’s highlighted in these bios reveal the law firm’s values?
- Can you find videos created by the firm? Does the firm have profiles on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram? What do these other channels reveal about the law firm’s culture and values?
- Do they mention pro bono work or charitable efforts? Is this important to you?
- Look for online reviews from employees and clients. Take these with a grain of salt—the majority of online reviews are complaints, not compliments—but take notice of any patterns in the reviews. If something really jumps out as a potential red flag, prepare to address it before accepting or declining an offer.
Keep in mind, what you see online might not be the whole truth. What a firm claims on their website might not actually exist in the real world and an online review from a disgruntled employee doesn’t reveal the whole story. Still, this online research is a good starting point for developing questions to ask in the interview, observations you’d like to make, and ultimately assessing if the law firm is a good fit for you.
What Do You See?
As you enter a potential future work environment, be ready to take notice of specific choices made by the law firm about the space:
- Is it an open office set up, or more of an office environment?
- Is it buzzing with activity, or relatively quiet.
- Are there private meeting spaces and/or soft furniture areas designed for collaboration?
- Does the decor give a sense of the culture of the place—are wall decorations inspirational, fun, or traditional?
- What is the lobby like—bright colored, modern, muted, or dated?
- Are employees dressed casually in jeans or in traditional business attire?
- Is there a shared eating area? How is it laid out and furnished?
Set your observations aside as you begin your interview, but plan on assessing them later. Maybe you know that you work better in quiet privacy or that having a nice place to take a break during your day makes you more productive. These environmental things might not seem like they reflect a companies values, but they are usually related. For example, an open office set up is more common at a law firm that values collaboration while as enclosed offices imply that privacy is more highly-valued. The work environment is not the most important aspect of a job, but it is worth considering before accepting a job offer.
What Do You Hear?
Some aspects of culture can easily be discussed in an interview and you should come prepared to ask questions that help you understand the culture of the law firm:
- How are decisions usually made and communicated at this law firm?
- What motivates people to stay at this firm long-term?
- What challenges is the law firm facing and how will those challenges be addressed?
- What do successful employees look like at this firm?
- What is the leadership style here?
- What’s your favorite aspect of working at the law firm?
- How do you feel the values of the organization are lived out?
In addition to these specific questions, you can understand more about the law firm’s culture by evaluating the questions your interviewer asks you, their interview style, and the things they share with you about the job. There aren’t necessarily right or wrong answers to these questions—what might be a nightmare culture for one person could be an ideal culture for another. Notice if any parts of the conversation raise alarms for you, or conversely, sound highly appealing.
Whether you’ve been burned by a poor culture fit in the past, have had such a good fit you hardly know what we’re talking about, or are somewhere in between, we firmly believe you’ll be your most productive and happiest self when you’re working for a law firm that’s the right culture fit for you. We love helping technologists, litigation support professionals, and attorneys understand what they’re looking for when it comes to law firm culture.