Ed Whittington, managing partner at Moore Barlow argues that company culture must become central to life in the legal profession, if firms are to grow and attract talent in a post-covid world.
Culture, flexibility and work-home balance are not words traditionally associated with the legal sector. The pandemic has quickly shown us how outdated the legal profession has become and the expectation from our people, and those considering a career in law, is that we must offer more than a healthy paycheck.
Much has changed across the legal landscape as firms come to terms with the cultural impact of the last 18 months and continue to strike a balance between the demand for flexible working and the growing importance of developing a strong firm culture.
Navigating Covid-19 has accelerated the pace of change in an industry which historically has been slower to change course than most other business sectors. Overnight, firms had to rewrite their operational strategy, implementing digital and operational change that could have taken a decade, almost overnight.
The pandemic shone a light on working practices, I believe people have become quite rightly more vocal about prioritising wellbeing and work-home balance when deciding where to work. As we all enter a new era of hybrid working, workplace culture remains under the microscope and examining it thoroughly will be vital to a firm’s success in the uncertain conditions of a post-pandemic world.
Merging in a pandemic
Change has very much become the ‘new normal’ across the legal sector, with some firms demonstrating they can adapt quickly, adopt new processes and technologies and work as productively at home as they do in the office.
The mantra of embracing change has never been more relevant to me than in our decision to press ahead with the merger of Moore Blatch and Barlow Robbins during the height of the first lockdown in spring, 2020. The plan to create a new powerhouse firm in the South East by bringing together both businesses’ extensive expertise looked good on paper, but its success very much depended on cultural integration.
From the outset, the merger was all about creating a new, people first firm that was client focused. We campaigned on this message throughout the roadshows that we delivered to both legacy firms to achieve buy-in on new leadership and departmental structures.
Thankfully, we managed to deliver these messages in person during a busy week before the first lockdown to explain the reasons behind the merger and outline our ambition and plans going forward. So, when the pandemic really took hold, we had at least started the journey and were bringing our people along with us. Having got to that point with only a few weeks to go before going into lockdown, the emotional decision was already made, it was just the final paperwork that wasn’t signed.
Finding a common ground between the cultures of both legacy firms and our ambitions for the new one was critical. Integrating two businesses hasn’t been without its challenges but when you drive forward change with culture at the heart of the decision-making process you inevitably pave the way for progress. With the benefit of hindsight, we now know you can carry out corporate deals while working from home very smoothly.
Law firms now face a crossroads. The pandemic has demonstrated that offering flexibility and balance is eminently doable and our people will come to expect it. This revelation may require some firms to rebuild their culture from the ground up, others need to ensure they don’t reverse the steps forward taken during the pandemic.
Speaking as someone who worked with colleagues to build a new firm during the pandemic, I can assure those who are apprehensive that change is not only possible, but also vital.