In this episode Seth and Jay talk about firm culture, and how it shifts over time, and more importantly, how to cultivate one for your firm.
Hello, hello and welcome to this edition of the law firm blueprint. I am one of your hosts, Jay Ruane, up here in beautiful Connecticut, can’t tell by my backdrop. And down there in DC is my man, Seth Price. Seth, how’s your week going this week?
It’s going really well. It’s, it is going well. Full is being finished and headed to Australia. So, two personal things going on.
That is awesome. Yeah, I’m, I’m getting ready to board a plane later today to head off to Florida for a week. I’m hoping to run into our good friend David Hale, I’m going to be in his neck of the woods. So, I may just pop into his office and then say hi if I can break away. I do have to work one day while I’m down there because I have a whole bunch of things scheduled. But the topic du jour. Just like the soup du jour, French onion today. The topic du jour, I want to talk a little bit about his culture. Because, you know, you and I have both had firms now for, you know, decade plus, and I am finding recently at least with some of the issues that we’ve had in my office, that there’s been a culture shift. So, I want to ask you a couple questions about culture and get your input on it. You know, there’s a lot of a lot of coaches lotta Talking Heads online, Gary Vee is big into it, that type of thing that talks about culture and how important it is, and I get it I the culture in your office makes or breaks most firms, right? But there is a, there’s a trope, I guess, that you can see online. And it’s, you know, we as owners, we work for our employees. And our job is to make them and, you know, I’ll be honest with you. For the first I don’t know, 15-18 years of my firm, I never really thought of it that way, I use, I was like you guys are fungible parts, I’ve built an assembly line, and you all work for me. And if you don’t like it, you can see your way out. But lately, I’m starting to come around to the whole once you have quality players, you know, B plus A minus even a player that you want to keep your job is to build a practice of practice a firm a home for them, and really work towards keeping their culture strong. What are your thoughts on that?
No, absolutely. And again, it’s one of those things that’s been our face a lot, I think, for good reason of late. And it is something that I’m sure early in my career, we did not focus on as much and to a certain extent, we had the ability really small, with our own force of wills and personality to keep that culture when you have a limited number of people. You know, my law partner, Dave, is a force of nature in the courtroom, he’s always on TV. And that’s positive. And, you know, I’m coming up with these ideas. And part of that had a real esprit de corps, we went to office parties, we knew everybody well, as you scale, there is less of that. And I think it takes much more effort on two fronts, one with scale, and second with virtual, each of those things are incredible challenges. And that I do believe that we really need to do everything that we can to instill in, you said something about we work for them. And I remember an early boss of mine used to say that and he didn’t believe it, but it was a good stick. And, you know, I now see myself more and more in a support role for our managers, where if something of life events happens, and somebody needs to get home to their family, making sure that happens if there’s a personality issue between people making sure that if there’s a client issue parachuting in, and that just to your point, I see my role morphing more and more into that piece.
So, here’s the, here’s the interesting thing about culture. Either you’re intentional with creating it, or it’s going to get created regardless, and you may not like what has come of… So, let me ask me, is it something that comes top down or company comes bottom up? Because I gotta tell you the culture of my office, you know, for the longest time, I think really was bottom up because I was kind of like, look, I’m in scale mode, I mean, aggressive scale mode, I need to do the things to do it and so, I didn’t give a shit.
What was up with that is that that means that it is going bottom down, that that affects culture. If you’re saying I’m taking a hiatus and doing this, I’m doing that at, yes, it’s going to be there. And so, when you leave a void, it becomes it takes on its own role, which is generally not what you wish. At the same time, I would argue the places where we have done amazing jobs hiring, then there’s a huge amount but so much of this and I, look, I see tale of two cities between BluShark and Price Benowitz were a younger population that I’ve left my thumbprint off the day-to-day workings of where they can do amazing things with culture that a homogeneous group can hit versus a law firm with legacy employees in a good way, right? That’s, that’s a great thing. I had people 10-15 plus years. That’s awesome. But with that, there, it is harder to get the touch points like, what is culture? Right? Is it Axe Throwing night? Is it, is it a, you know, free food? It’s many things, but that is many of the things that I loved about the early days of our law firm, where everybody went out for drinks after a big victory, right? Disappeared as people had kids and families and your, you saw your post the other day, you’re on five different fields, you’re not doing anything.
Speaking of which, my nine-year-old team won the championship, they were down to one in the top of the fifth. And bases were loaded, my son got up, he swung, he missed the first one. And then he got plugged, he got plugged in the head. And he walked in a run and that started a rally. And so, he took one for the team. And they wound up winning the Mr. Speeding Ticket, team on up winning four to two in their six innings. We were very happy, and I was…
Understood, you’re no longer as a stack at that sitting in a bar after work paying your dues. Right. But that’s but like when you lose that. It’s not that that’s the only way to have culture because other people may not want it. But to me, those were our full of glory days. But in those scaling up days, there was a lot of we have happy hours in the office every Friday and people stayed with stuff.
Let me ask you though. Is that just, is that culture? Or is that just convenience? Because…
Either way, if somebody wishes to stay that goes a heck of a long way. You know, I was with a firm that was in scale up load as a baby lawyer, right? This firm went from when I was a summer associated that 75 to about 250. When I left merged into a disaster situation in New York, it’s now been acquired twice and is now Morgan Lewis. But to sort of, you know, this was not a place, this was a place that was people were out for their financial wellbeing at the top that they are everywhere but maniacally so but they had Friday, happy hours and people went. And as much as people may have bitched and moaned, there was turnover, there was a certain history to poor, and that there were a lot I’ve had more friends from that legacy firm regret that I have and a lot of jobs since then. But the people from that firm of the 1990s are still in touch today to a great extent. And there was something about that we did a summer associate event where they took us to Rehoboth Beach, somebody paid for 10 hotel rooms on short notice in the middle of the summer took us out for drinks. I still go to Rehoboth; every weekend, I just came back last weekend with the family. Because I love that memory so much. So is that alone, if you’re if you had if you bought if you have tons of drinks and treat people like shit, it’s not going to work. But if that’s part of it, if people love the people they work with. And look, we’ve seen good and bad with that. It can get clicky it can get to the point where there’s some negative ramifications as management where people are so comfortable, there’s issues with managers and employees and do what the Do you want a manager that, you know, being that close to people, all those things, as I’d been very public, we had a aid, we had a head of ops, that was our band aid during COVID, wheeling after we had the motorcycle accident, and we the guy who ended up having to fire due to some inappropriate behavior or at a firm event. This guy loves socializing with everybody. And to the point where it was that you can’t do that and be managed. But there’s a reason why every sitcom has an episode, mash added every episode where somebody gets promoted, and they’re no longer one of the teams. And so, yes, I would love there to be a combination of a good work environment where you’re learning, you’re growing, there’s opportunity for advancement, but there’s nothing better than if people want to spend time together. Because that is, you know, at its core, that would be the ideal.
Well, I mean, maybe you have some insight into this with BluShark, although they may be a little younger than the target demo that I’m talking about. But, you know, the generations that come after Gen X, right? There is a lot more attention paid to work life balance. I mean, when I was first starting out, it was yeah, we go out for drinks with everybody in the office and you know, and we stay out all Friday night that type of thing now, people are like no, no, I have work life balance, man. I’m leaving at five o’clock or six o’clock, well, I clock out, I do other things. And so how do you build a culture when half of the people don’t want to participate?
I actually have an answer for you, Jay. I can’t say it’s done at the law firm. But at BluShark, we have a paid Happy Hour every Friday. It’s a terrible name, in my opinion. It’s friendship Friday with a virtual or in person formula. But it’s been going on now for seven years and we, it’s a paid hour. And there’s whether you’re in person having a drink, or whether you’re on zoom in, which is you’re doing something from trivia to whatever interest group you have, there is something non work paid for exactly for our generation, they just be like drinks or out phone bills day, that’s, you know, we get it. And or I shouldn’t say we get it. I’ve been told to get it. And, you know, we have a paid Happy Hour every Friday.
So, why isn’t BluShark then doing? I mean, why isn’t Price Benowitz doing something like that?
You know, I…
I think because of the type of people that work there are not 20 somethings in the digital space. I mean, right, but, you know, we’re talking about our audience here, run the gamut of, you know, first years out of law school, just trying to hang a shingle to established firms that had been around forever. So, you know, it’s not as easy as, hey, we’ve got people that range in age from 20 to 30, you know…
It’s tougher, you know, we had a golden age of a friend’s law firm used to lend us their roof deck, overlooking the White House. And we had some epic, epic beginning of end, beginning and end of summer parties. We now do them at Bar Roof decks, one of our houses now the pool, like, it’s not the same, and also as a legacy firm when it’s new and fresh. But there are people been with us for 15 years, that’s, that’s if you have three major events a year that’s 45 of these, the idea that you have to be at the next one with that energy. It’s hard to, it’s hard to keep that.
Well. Yeah. And then, don’t also forget there are some people who are like, you know, I’m vegan, I don’t want to go to someplace where they’re serving meat or I don’t drink and this place is going to be full of people drinking.
And we’ve had, you know, we…
Those are all the reasons people have to, you know, I like, so I don’t drink. And I think people think that I might be in a program. I’m not, I just gave up drinking a while ago, I feel better. You know, it’s, you know, I don’t have, you know, any reason to avoid it. But, you know, I don’t want to go out with a bunch of people who are getting paid. It’s not my thing anymore. It used to be my thing, maybe once a year and when I’m in Vegas with you, you know, we’ll go out and we’ll…
I’m still waiting for my timing to be right for St. Patrick’s Day. I heard about this legendary dinner and he’s going to be with a sober Jay Ruane.
I mean, I usually have one Jameson. But yeah, it’s so Virginia right now, back in the day, a drunk Jay Ruane on St. Patrick’s day in the city, we’re walking around in my tux having a good time. Those were some classic classic nights, but those days are long behind me. I think the last one was when my youngest daughter was born in 2010, I came back to the hotel room where my daughter was up with an ear infection and my wife was beside herself, and I was useless to her. But that’s, but…
On the other side, you know, we’ve worked with Bill Biggs, who’s a genius on this stuff, but even there, it’s hard work. It’s not like there’s no there’s no fairy dust. It’s a combination of making sure that people both on the professional side feel valued. And at the same time, look today, today was a tough day. You know, me we were talking today. When I went about Juneteenth right in DC, the city shut down. I’m like, I’m back from the beach, and I’m ready to work, right? And it’s tough. It to me, it is like I want to go and I’m trying to have to bite my tongue. I’m trying to like, basically get from people what give me work to do today to make sure that and I use it for some big picture planning. I have some big decisions coming up on a marketing strategy. And it gave me some of that sort of like, isolated time, which you don’t normally get. So, it is a…
I wonder if it’s something where you need to have somebody who has and maybe it’s your admin, but it may not be that person’s strong suit. But somebody who kind of has their pulse on what’s going on what people are talking about, what are they looking for? Because like you said with COVID With the move to having remote people, it’s very hard to pull them in. Like for example, we one of my longtime legal assistants, had moved to Florida during COVID. She is coming back to Connecticut because her husband is in the National Guard. He’s going to have to be up here. She’s got family up here. She’s coming up with a kid. And one of the other lawyers said, why don’t we throw a pool party in my house? We get a food truck; we’ll have everybody over. Everyone will bring their kids on a Friday. We’ll shut down for the day. We’ll have a blast, right? And I’m thinking, and that’s awesome. I have five higher level remote workers, two in Mexico, three in Argentina. And I’m really gonna fly them in for a pool party. Like, how do you protect? How do they participate in that day like?
Well, I think like I think you have to divide and conquer, right? If you’re gonna go virtual, you own it. And I something like this one where I think blue shark has done a really good job twice a year, everybody domestic flies in. And starting this year, we’re adding in the team members, because we now have enough internationally that their team leads that team leads will come in. Okay, so again, not perfect, but it’s, look, we’ve talked a lot about this on the show, there are things that will get you as close as you can on the International, you know, there’s you there, I feel like it’s, there’s so many things you can do well, God forbid if you could keep the domestic poor, happy. I believe some of that will radiate out. Perfect. It’s not the same. But I believe that when you have happy people that we radiate, and that’s why we see these posts online. Somebody posted in one of the forums today about you know, having to fire their longest standing attorney who is toxic, and you realize the damage that can be done. I’ve had it over the years I’ve lived that when you have bad people, it sucks because sometimes the person’s doing good work. And I think you had that once where it was good work. But like it’s we didn’t those unicorns that like you we always do all this personality testing people want God forbid I find a prelist litigants paralegal that can walk and chew gum, like thank God, then you have to be like, okay, are they gonna upset the applecart here and not just week one, but six months in, it’s like my kids, they’re really well behaved for their first visit to the grandparents four days in, it’s like, all the gloves are off. And that could be like anything else? You know, how are we, you know, months in and we’re seeing I have talked about on the show, we’ll talk about it again, the mental health fallout from COVID is not insubstantial. If I said that, right. And that we have all these additional complications. So not only are you trying to sort of do is play this game was called a game to try to make sure everything’s as happy as possible. But it’s a moving target sometimes. And you’re not even sure because people’s just what they want changes minute to minute.
Well, and that’s one of the things that I wanted to talk a little bit about more, because it seems like unless you’re being intentional, like it sounds like BluShark is doing with their, you know, happy hours, and they’re twice a year flying. So, that type of thing. Unless you’re being intentional, your culture can change without you at the top, even knowing that, and there are sniping, going back and forth between employees. And people think that other people are ducking work, and you know, and that type of thing. And then all of a sudden, you’ve got this culture where not everybody’s helping each other, but people are, are really upset with each other. And especially when you’re dealing with a disjointed workforce, it’s kind of hard because, you know, I’ve had this situation where I’ve had a stateside worker say, well, these people down there in Mexico, they’re not picking up the phones. And I see the call logs if they’re on the phone. And so, they are doing their work, but because you can’t see them doing their work. They people say, oh, they’re not doing it. And so…
I would argue and I think this is probably like something that I’ve seen a lot now that EOS running both organizations, that one of the major factors to me is that great management team, because you can’t have your pulse on all of that. But right now, we’re in a golden age of intake. There’s knock on wood, because it’s going really well, we have an amazing manager, and under her she has team leads. And that to me, when you look at any iOS layout, or when you look at your org chart, rather. And you see there are gaping holes that you’re holding multiple seats that you probably shouldn’t be holding in a perfect world, then those holes while you’re doing it as a placeholder, that to me is where you have issues because you don’t have your finger on the pulse of intake.
You know, you’re just putting out fires left and right. Even if they’re small, you can’t focus on the big picture.
Well, big picture. And also, there’s not a person in that seat. That’s the job of the person in that seat to monitor that and let you know and try to work on that. Whereas if that’s just you adjust the bandwidth to put out a fire and you really have no idea what’s going on there. Are you on the call with the domestic and international people where you would know that or could hit potentially cut it off at the past because you realize that there’s a feeling of that and you would show stats and you’d say the international we have two international players that are playing at or beyond not beyond but at our top domestic people. And that’s not nothing meaning somebody without the education without all these things. This is they’re paid less. And they’re holding their own. That’s pretty amazing, which means I have other domestic people that are under those players. So, to me, I find that if you again, it’s not perfect, because occasionally, I’m not speaking anything in my universe. But if a manager is part of the issue, that’s when it becomes extremely complicated, because now you’re on quicksand. Because the person you’re, you’re, you’re looking to to give you the answer as to how things are going, or what you need to improve, could be part of your problem. And that’s what gets really complicated.
Yeah, I mean, I think when it comes down to at the end of the day, is that if you’re going to be talking culture in your firm, you need to realize that culture isn’t a yeti mug with your logo on it, or a free cocktail at a happy hour, once or twice a year, or even some swag with your, you know, a sweatshirt with your firm name on it. But really, it’s how everybody gets along, and how everybody has each other’s back and realizes that they’re rowing in the same direction. And you can avoid those holiday parties and those types of things. If you have everybody who’s just working well together, I mean, you don’t want that as necessary on top. And…
But there’s so, it’s, it’s so me, look, you have X number of people, as even think about how many different pockets you have within that you have intake, which is partially offshore, partially not. You have lawyers running around, you know, junior and senior you have, you know, you have administrative staff, you have all these different things. And that, to me is where, look, I wish I could say, hey, perfect law firm culture, there’s no such thing as perfect. But I find it particularly challenging because there are so many different constituencies. So even, you know, what I loved about the early days is that we had a team where there were not that I don’t love the fact that people have families that have moved on, but there were less moving parts. And even the lawyers were closer to the administrative staff. Right. The good news is I’ve had people with me 15 years, those people have completely different priorities than they did 15 years ago.
Right. So then so say, you are 30 years old, you’ve hung your shingle, you’re a solo, you might have a stateside person who’s helping you out, or maybe you have one or two remote people, as you start to scale your business. How do you create your culture in that role, so that it is malleable enough to last, but it’s intentional, so that you actually are paying attention to it now, what do you think you need to do once?
Again, this is my, my immediate response would be, I think you need to bifurcate or try, you know, or more thinking, meeting people where they’re at making sure that you have things that are important to the people that want to have work as part of their extended social life at the same time, not discriminating against, not from the people where they have a life beyond and don’t want that. And hopefully, we that’s again, our attempt is to have three major events, potentially a fourth, but three major events throughout the year that everybody comes to, regardless of stuff, giving advance notice that you really tried to get buy in on, and then having smaller things for the people to make sure that even though I no longer really want to spend my time after work, having, you know, cheap wine and plastic cups that used to be really cool. Now, I’d rather not be there. I want to make sure that people that are of that generation have that because I found that time so valuable. And when a lawyer is staying late, and comes into those, it’s incredibly valuable.
Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, that’s really what it comes down to, you almost have to find the culture that works for the team that you’ve assembled, and be meaningful and mindful on how you enable them to really make the most out of whatever it is. For us. We have a commitment to education. So, we have Friday’s fight of last Friday of the month, we do it in office training staff gets to participate, it’s for the lawyers, but staff can sit in that type of thing. And that’s part of our mission statement is being, you know, well educated. So, we’ve committed to that. And so, everybody buys in, but I think it’s definitely something that you need to you need to be intentional about.
Right. And I think that as you and I have aged right, so the talk you just shared something about yourself, right? When you started your firm you drank, right and you generally don’t know, it’s almost not that like alcohol is the answer to culture, but it’s almost like we in a blue shark clearly has it and we have it in price battles, but having people that are looking out for what those things might be. And it’s tough because as you’ve scaled even the people, I delegate to maybe a step removed. So, we’re doing a big thing. This weekend, there’s a barbecue battle. We went in partners with our radio station that we’re doing some work with, and we’re doing all this and it gets touchy because these are the these are the complicated questions. You know, we have two-hour shifts for people to be at the booth, give out swag talk to people, you know, get to know the community. It’s sort of our first major endeavor in this space. We’ve never been that touchy feely in the community firm, it’s always been digital. And that all of a sudden, you’re their people that love that. And then other people like, Why the hell are you talking about me doing anything on the weekend, and we don’t want to be negative towards anybody who doesn’t want it. But you want to figure out where the positive is. And you know what they’re going to be people that don’t really want to do that. But they’ll bring their family by and support it to say, hi, figuring out how to, you know, bring that together, it’s going to take a lot more than a 30-minute podcast.
Yeah, that’s for sure. That’s for sure. You got anything else you want to talk about?
This is, this is good. And I think it is a good sort of step. I’ll tease this for, I think, a next episode. So, we need to put some thought into it. But we’re starting to see Google go after companies that have done fraudulent reviews. And the question is, we all need reviews, we need more and more as we push for a multi-Office solution for law firms. But there’s, you know, there are markets where fraud is rampid. And the question is, what do you do, it’s sort of like the link building during the spam days, you know, if you, if you went to if you didn’t do some of it, if you didn’t, if you weren’t aggressive, right? If the idea of it the only the only review you ever got was for a satisfied customer who paid you and got their ticket beat versus being more general, so you call your firm that you couldn’t help looking at how do you balance the need to fill the beast with the fact that many people are doing things that they shouldn’t be doing? And how do you sort of deal with all of that?
Well, I mean, the reality is, in my market, there are lawyers who are doing scurrilous things every day. I mean, I see people, you know, using words that were unethical, you know, that we’re not allowed to use, I see people stuffing their reviews and guys going, you know, from, you know, seven reviews to 70, in, you know, two weeks, and it’s, you know, no description, it’s just a name and five stars, you know, that type of thing. And then all of a sudden, they’re like, now up in the three pack, even the three pack is there, or now they’re, you know, matching.
And I want to, I want to dive into this in our next episode. Good. Very good. So, until we meet again?
Until we meet again. Folks, that’s gonna do it for this edition of the law firm blueprint. If you feel like you want to catch us on the go, please be sure to download our podcasts. And if you do, give us a five-star review. Of course, you can catch up with us every week here in the Facebook group. I just posted something earlier this week that I think you should check out if you’re just hearing about it, jump into the law firm Facebook group. I’m actually stacking three different AI products to build a month, a weekly case law podcast. And we’re doing it in about 20 minutes a week by stacking these different resources. And it’s been great. It’s getting, you know, we’re now up to 150 something subscribers in a couple of weeks, we’re going to hopefully get to 1000 by the end of the year. And we’re targeting other lawyers to generate more referral business, from lawyers outside of our niche. And it’s a lot of fun to do, using all these different AI products. So, I posted a loom earlier on Monday on how to do it. So, check it out if you haven’t seen it yet. And then of course, let us know if you have any topics, you want us to cover. Let us know in the comments down below or shoot Seth or myself a DM within the group. I got some cool stuff that I just filmed in our studio coming out that’s going to be posted a lot from blueprint, some systems coming up soon. So, we got a lot of good content for you this summer. Any final words, Seth?
No, so we’ll see you soon.
We’ll see you soon. Bye for now.