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Core values help you align your law firm’s culture and actions to ultimately strengthen your brand and achieve your law firm’s long-term goals. Check out this post for guidance on identifying core values to guide your firm into the future.
Have you ever come across a company’s core values? Chances are you have, even if you did not realize it at the time. These are simple statements to define a company’s corporate culture and guide a company’s way of working.
For instance, Facebook’s core values are be bold, focus on impact, move fast, be open, and build social value. Microsoft’s corporate values are respect, integrity, and accountability, and the company puts its mission into action through additional values, such as innovation, diversity and inclusion, corporate social responsibility, and trustworthy computing. Sony’s values include dreams and curiosity, integrity and sincerity, diversity, and sustainability.
For many large organizations, core values are often publicized pieces of the company’s brand identity. Other entities may choose to promote their core values internally. Regardless of whether an organization publicizes its core values or promotes them in some other way, they are crucial pieces of the company’s marketing and business plan that must be reflected in all of the company’s initiatives and messaging.
Law firms are no exception to this rule. If you want to build a team that shares a unified vision for the future, having clear core values can help. If you want to implement strategies for your practice that align with your firm’s mission, core values can help. If you want to effectively attract the right type of clients to your firm, core values can help by building a positive message about your firm in the community.
Ready to get started? Keep reading to learn more about identifying and articulating core values for your firm.
A Basic Introduction to Core Values
Core values often are part of the law firm’s overall vision. In short, core values are the fundamental beliefs and guiding principles for your practice. They permeate your law firm, your decisions, policies, and actions, and also help you develop a unified firm culture, build trust with both internal and external stakeholders, and ultimately strengthen the public perception of your business.
Your firm’s vision consists of your core values, purpose, and mission as intertwined elements. You need the right pieces in place to help you effectively chart the proper course for your future. You are creating a path for your law firm to become the ideal version of itself. Core values are where your law firm’s vision begins.
As you work on articulating your law firm’s vision, we recommend that you define your finalized core values first in the process. Your core values are the building blocks for your law firm’s vision and will help lead you to the purpose, mission, and big goals for your firm.
Identifying Your Core Values
Core values come from inside you. They are your beliefs on life and business and must be totally authentic. As Jim Collins and Bill Lazier wrote, “Ultimately core values and beliefs get instilled by what you do, by specific concrete actions, not by what you say.”
When you are ready to start working on enumerating your core values, the first step in this process will be brainstorming. During the brainstorming stage, you want to capture all of the possible core values that might fit your firm. The list may become rather long. That is okay. You don’t want to eliminate ideas too soon.
Use these strategies to help you get your potential values onto paper during the brainstorming phase:
- Consider Your Day to Day. Think about what the day-to-day interactions are like for your firm. Do you value relationship-building meetings with clients? Do you focus on employee recognition? Do you measure success by profits, outcomes, or client satisfaction? Are there any divides or factions in your team? Does your firm do pro bono work? What are the billable hour requirements? Do you have a professional development program?
The answers to these questions may also shed light on possible values for your firm. If you frequently engage in pro bono work and support local charities, perhaps giving back or community service are values for your firm. If you have stringent billable hour requirements and strong profits, perhaps your firm values measurable productivity.
- Ask Your Team. Ask your team to share the values they find most important to your firm. We suggest doing this together over a couple of hours in a brainstorming/discussion session. However, if you have time constraints that prohibit this exercise, you could also gather the team’s thoughts via email or online survey.
If you are a solo practitioner without any staff members, you can engage in a more informal survey with close friends or colleagues and ask them how they would describe you and your practice.
- Think About Impressions. Consider how you want to be perceived by the general public. What is it that you want your potential clients to know about you? How do you want the community to think of your law firm? Do you want to be known for your diligence? Thought of as a generous employer? Remembered as committed to your clients? Think about the goals you have set for your firm and how you want others to think of you as you set out to achieve them.
- Consider Your Competitor. Yes, you read that right. It may seem odd, but during the brainstorming process think about your law firm’s top competitor. Who is it? What makes your two firm’s different from each other? The answers to these questions likely present a great starting point for brainstorming your firm’s core values.
For example, if your top competitor takes a very aggressive approach to litigation (or is affectionately known as a bulldog) but you prefer to exhaust all avenues for amicable resolution before filing suit, then this more cooperative or collegial approach to disputes is a potential value for your practice.
After you have brainstormed your values, it is time to start narrowing the list and determining your key core values. This part may be difficult if you have a long list. However, you need these selected values to lead you to your vision and ensure you have a unified plan with consistent guideposts for the future.
Here are some things for you to consider during this exercise:
- Be Authentic & Passionate. Your firm and all employees of your firm must live out these values each day. This exercise will be ineffective if you only pay lip service to a few values that sound good without making them a fundamental part of your firm culture. Thus, you should make sure you are passionate about the values chosen for your firm and are ready and willing to make them a sincere, authentic part of your firm’s daily practice.
- Choose Timeless Values. While your core values do not have to be static, you do not want to change them every week, month, or even year. While fashion trends or social media challenges may come and go with the wind, you want your core values to stand strong and remain consistent for many years to come.
- Avoid Overly Generic or Broad Values. You do not want to choose generic values with little connection to the things that set you apart from other firms or that do not have real meaning and fail to present an obvious connection to the goals outlined by your vision, purpose, and mission statements.
- Avoid the “Too Many” Problem. There is no limit to the number of values you can choose for your law firm. However, you will inadvertently create problems if you try to include too many values.
They may become difficult for your team to remember. It will be harder to integrate them into your firm culture through effective communication. You may even accidentally choose values that conflict with each other. To avoid the “too many” problem, we suggest choosing five to seven core values.
Communicating Your Values
Once you have finalized your law firm’s values, it is time to communicate them. Try to keep the values to single words or short phrases. You can include a descriptive sentence or two after each of your values to give them more context if you find it important to elaborate on what that value means for your organization.
Once you have the list of values finalized, you can determine how to share them. You will need to launch them formally for your entire team. You can do this through a team meeting or some other form of internal communication. Then, you need to be sure you reinforce these values.
Consider adding signs or decor in key locations within your office that illustrate your core values. Perhaps you could implement awards for employees exemplifying the values. Add them to your new hire materials and employee handbooks.
The key here is ensuring employees remember and live your core values. If they are going to be part of your firm’s guiding compass, then they have to become part of your culture. Do not be discouraged if this process takes some time. As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
For more on aligning actions with values, check out this article by Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and other books on business leadership.
Next, decide whether you are going to explicitly share your firm’s values with external audiences. If so, you should add a section to the About page on your law firm website that includes your mission, vision, purpose, and values. If your core values are a series of short words, you may want to add them to your email signatures.
Even if you do not intend to directly promote these values to an external audience, you should still consider how you will incorporate these values into future marketing initiatives and promotional materials. For example, if you have a slogan for your law firm then this slogan needs to reflect the concepts that are at the core of your values.
Final Thoughts: Why Do You Care?
The branding process helps you create a stronger connection with your clients and employees. It boosts recognition and helps build trust and rapport with the community. Core values are one piece of this branding process that helps create a clear vision for your team to enact your firm’s mission and purpose each day.