Culture in a law department may trump strategy

Bain & Company’s Management Tools and Trends 2007 at slide 5, reports on the degree to which 1,221 international executives agreed to certain statements. The most consensus, where some 91 percent of the executives agreed, was for the statement that “culture is as important as strategy for business success.”

This finding suggests to me that whatever culture is in a law department may have more to do with the law department’s success (however you measure that) than does strategic planning by the general counsel and senior lawyers..

Regrettably, it is difficult to come to grips with the meaning for law departments of the term “culture” (See my posts of June 4, 2007 on culture; Feb. 4, 2006 on the three keys to culture; May 4, 2005 and Nov. 16, 2005 on smoke and mirrors; and Dec. 21, 2005 on that term as it applies to law department alignment with clients.). For one difficulty, it is hard to separate “culture” from “values” (See my posts of May 31, 2006 about how all management expresses values, and four references; Oct. 22, 2006 about the importance of culture and values; Feb. 16, 2006 on organizational DNA and culture; and Dec. 9, 2005 #1.)

In a company’s culture, a welcoming and knowledgeable attitude about what a law department can contribute would be a most desirable culture for its in-house team (See my posts of May 30, 2006 about decoding culture and “values”; and Nov. 13, 2006 about Aviva and how it encourages the use of lawyers.). So too would pervasive belief in compliance with laws and regulations and pride in doing the right thing.

Within a law department, support for the development of each individual would be part of an admirable culture, as would a willingness to deal realistically with legal risks. A culture of open communication and a pervasive sense that processes are fair and people will be treated equitably in terms of workload, responsibility, or compensation makes up another aspect of culture.

A great-culture list could go on, but to be blunt, it is easy to write Boy Scout slogans about commendable culture; it is hard to pin down specifically what law department culture is (See my posts of Jan. 25, 2007as to a semiotic view of culture.) and how a general counsel can improve it (See my posts of Oct. 19, 2005 about a “culture of meetings”; and Sept. 4, 2005 for a “culture of diversity”.).

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