This blog post is written by Simon Slater, Byfield’s Non-Executive Chairman.

Recent roundtable discussions with the leaders of major law firms have been candid and stimulating in equal measure. It is clear they have their work cut out in navigating these uncharted waters. But their willingness to share their concerns with each other – with humility, honesty and good humour – has been a breath of fresh air.

Six months into the pandemic, it has emerged that the greatest challenge they face is this: how in the name of Murgatroyd can they maintain a strong organisational culture and team spirit in a world which turned completely agile overnight?

Such has been the concern expressed about this that the team at Byfield decided to establish if there were any solutions to the conundrum. After doing extensive desk research we were unsurprised to find that there was no silver bullet. It is clearly still too soon to identify approaches which are proven and substantiated by evidence.

However, in our hunt for silver we did find some nuggets of clues. Seven in fact. And we are happy to acknowledge both McKinsey and Acritas as being among the sources of material gathered more widely to which we have applied our own interpretation.


1. Clarity of vision is more vital than ever before. This is true on all levels: firm, practice group and team. With people operating from home some, if not most, of the time it is too easy for them to feel detached from what it is they are part of achieving. Leaders need to find new ways of keeping the vision front of mind on and individual, team and firm wide basis. Otherwise, people will create their own individual silo. They say that “no man is an island”; we have to take great care to ensure that s/he isn’t.


2. Effective leadership of remote teams requires a different set of motivational and communication skills to those needed in an analogue office environment. Some of these skills are covered below. Some skills are yet to be discovered. Whatever they may be, a combination of old-school skills and new-agile-world methods will be necessary when the office becomes a hub for meetings and collaboration. And the home work-station is the place where much of the work gets done.


3. Seamless operations are a given and most leading law firms already have this licked. Consistent policies, processes and systems – consistently applied and used – are a must in a remote working world. They enable efficient collaboration and ensure seamless service delivery.


4. Leaders must become coaches in future. This goes well beyond delegation and supervision. As if this wasn’t hard enough, it will be incumbent on line managers to act more as coach to their colleagues to support them in becoming the best version of themselves. Working alone can be isolating and it is all too easy to lose sight of the fundamental human need to feel valued and developed. People still have careers which need to be nurtured. Leaders would do well to acquire some coaching skills to ensure the focus is more on desired outputs than bald inputs.


5. Leaders need to energise teams and build resilience without people being in the same place. Finding new ways to ensure individual and collective motivation is part of the answer; so too is creating a new framework to foster collaboration and camaraderie. This will help people to feel connected and supported. It will also help to build resilience. And it will definitely contribute positively to everyone’s wellbeing.


6. Leaders need to encourage full engagement by seeking constant feedback, which will need a more thoughtful and planned approach. This may include virtual water-cooler moments as well as more structured, more frequent (though still informal) progress reviews. It cannot be left to the annual or interim review or the set piece firm wide survey.


7. Leaders need to shape the employee value proposition and employer brand because people’s touch points with their firms will be concentrated among fewer of their colleagues and not always in person. Their experience of working with the firm will be shaped by a disproportionately small number of key people. How employees perceive their firm, and how satisfied they are, will depend to a greater extent on how proactively their practice leaders manage their experience of working with them. This in turn shapes the employer brand externally. Word-of-mouth is more important than ever in a world where some firms are doing so much that is right while others are getting things spectacularly wrong. Those firms which get it right will act as a magnet for the best talent.


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These are nothing more than nuggets. Food for thought. They are intended to help you reflect on the significant challenges you face in maintaining a strong organisational culture and team spirit. One in which the whole is still greater than the sum of its parts.


All of these things require more thoughtful communication, which means the importance of effective internal communication needs to rise to the top of the boardroom agenda.


More than this, they mean that law firms need to invest in their people at least as much as in their office space.

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At Byfield, we have undertaken research in collaboration with post-graduates from the London Business School to better understand the six key issues law firm managing partners are facing in today’s fast-evolving business environment, as well as providing guidance on how those issues can be addressed. We've published this research in our new report: The Six Things Keeping Managing Partners Awake at Night.

We believe communication lies at the heart of addressing the key business and risk concerns that law firms are facing. By applying a lasersharp focus to the six areas of communication we identify at the end of this report, law firms can protect and enhance their reputations for the long-term and emerge with more resilient businesses as a result.

Download The Six Things Keeping Managing Partners Awake at Night.