A definition of culture for law departments

“We define culture as a system of shared values that define what is important and norms that define appropriate attitudes and behaviors for organizational members” Cal. Mgt. Rev., Vol. 50, Fall 2007 at 179. “Culture” is a slippery notion, one that has confounded my efforts to come to an inductive understanding (See my post of Nov. 20, 2007 that admits confusion and includes 11 references.).

Now, though, culture is clear: in every law department of more than one lawyer there is an operating consensus as to what is important (Examples: be right, block wrongs, get the job done well, team with clients, cope with workload, etc.). Those are shared values.

Second, people act in ways that others accept and applaud (Examples: challenge authority, wear jeans, decorate offices, treat non-lawyers with disdain, kowtow to the general counsel, etc.). Those are norms. The article explains that “norms are central to characterizing how work is conducted at the organizational and group levels” (at 179).

The overlap is apparent. How law departments select outside counsel is shaped by culture and by norms (See my post of Aug. 26, 2006 on outside counsel selection.). The way bonuses are awarded draws on both culture and norms (See my post of June 11, 2007 about equity and equality norms.). Together, the shared values and behavioral norms constitute the culture of a law department.

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