The number one factor in determining the day-to-day joy in one’s work life is the culture of the organization of which you are a part.
Savvy law firm leaders know this; and they apply serious standards to increase the probability that everyone that becomes part of the organization makes a positive contribution to its culture.
Weaker leaders tend to operate as if an increase in the number of lawyers is indicative of growth. As a result, far fewer and much less stringent standards are employed in pursuit of “bigger” — incrementally fracturing their firm’s culture in the process.
Some Standards of Success
It is instructive to look at a few of the standards employed by three successful individuals/firms.
Wachtell Lipton, perhaps the most consistently successful law firm over the last 50 years, is also the most difficult when it comes to landing a position. The firm’s unique culture has been aided, if not preserved, by a consistent approach to growth, the recruitment of talent, and its leadership.
Lateral growth, let alone the increasingly popular tactic of combining firms, is almost unheard of at Wachtell Lipton. A slower, perhaps less glamorous but much less volatile approach, is fostered by hiring the best young talent, and then proactively helping them develop and mature within the firm’s culture.
Even though a few laterals have been brought into Wachtell Lipton over the years, the firm has a demonstrated strong preference for recruiting new attorney candidates from premier law schools. Consistent with its pursuit of only the most challenging work, they consider only those students whose academic record demonstrates the ability to excel at the highest level.
But Wachtelll’s recruitment process doesn’t stop there. Candidates are put through a rigorous internship in order to assess the mental strength, work ethic and collegial personality. Even when an intern passes those tests, only individuals who project as future partners at the firm will be hired.
Mark Zuckerberg, the enormously successful founder of Facebook, in a recent interview in Barcelona made headlines when he spoke of his standard for hiring someone. Zuckerbrg said “I will only hire someone to work directly for me if I would work for that person.” He continued, “business owners should resist the urge to settle for lesser candidates in the name of manpower. Over the long term, you’re only going to be better if you get someone really good.”
Jim Collins, the author of the classic Good to Great, says “leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with the where but the who…by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off…They stick with that discipline –first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances.”
Contrast this long-term philosophy with an approach that revolves around filling spots…getting bodies at desks…all the while expecting (and settling for) a turn-over rate that prevents any continuity or real cultural fabric.
Building an enduring organization — one that brings long-term joy and career satisfaction — is a choice. One cornerstone of this choice is to do all one can do to ensure that those on the bus will strengthen the firm’s culture.
The other choice is to simply add bodies that make the firm bigger.