Some of the world's most outstanding lawyers say law firms can foster successful and happier lawyers by cultivating a culture that taps into their key motivators: respect, reward and ownership resonance. Law firms also miss the mark with training and development programs that overlook the attributes that clients value most: commerciality, connectedness and responsiveness.
For law firms, the return on investment for developing more Stars is undeniable. Acritas found that client satisfaction levels peak when a Star is on their team, and highly satisfied clients give 100 percent higher share of spend to firms that have Stars on their team.
Acritas Stars™ summarizes the findings of an online survey to which 938 of the inaugural Star lawyers responded. More than 5,000 lawyers are deemed Star Lawyers by Acritas following its 18-month-long survey of general counsel and other senior legal leaders worldwide to name any exemplary outside counsel with whom they worked.
"Star lawyers are incredibly forthcoming with what fosters and inhibits their success," said Lisa Hart Shepherd, chief executive officer of Acritas, "While most Stars are extremely happy, unfair reward systems and unfair access to opportunity would cause them to leave, particularly if they lack belief in the firm’s strategy or leadership."
Respect: The Key to Star Lawyer Happiness
Respect and fair treatment are the most influential factors on a Star's overall satisfaction, followed by perceived opportunities for their own growth and progression.
The majority of Star lawyers are happy at their current firms. They feel respected in the workplace and genuinely enjoy the people with whom they work. In fact, 73 percent would actively recommend their firm as a place to work.
"Happy lawyers produce happy clients," said Shepherd. "Law firms need to systematically measure satisfaction levels across both groups to understand the stickiness and potential long-term profitability of the client relationship."
Reward: Why Star Lawyers Leave
Though 78 percent of Stars have no plans to leave their current firms, 22 percent are contemplating what their options might be elsewhere. Dissatisfaction with compensation is the number one reason for Star lawyers to consider other firms, particularly if they believe the bonus system is unfair or opaque.
The survey found that Star lawyers are happiest when they believe the compensation system in place is fair - regardless of what type of system it is.
Relatability: Star Lawyers Need to Embrace the Bigger Picture
Understanding and embracing the firm's strategic direction was the third key influencer on workplace satisfaction among Star lawyers.
A lack of support for the firm's long-term vision does more than create discontent among Star lawyers. Those who do not relate to the firm's leadership will disengage and leave for places where their progression and development is integral to the firm's larger strategic plan.
Creating a Culture of Star Clusters
Legal expertise notwithstanding, general counsel and Star lawyers agree that an outside lawyer's most valuable characteristics are commerciality and responsiveness. Clients put a premium on those who understand their business and who desire to help them thrive within legal guardrails.
Star lawyers say they are successful because they invest time and effort to understand their clients and business situations. This translates into three key practices: staying in regular contact with clients; asking the right questions; and reading relevant news and client-related alerts.
These skills are teachable and Star lawyers believe they should be institutionalized across their firms, starting with realigning firm goals and objectives. Stars recommend that firms downshift the emphasis on billable hours and incorporate client-centric metrics into individual lawyer performance evaluations. This includes objectively measuring and benchmarking progress in areas such as client face time, client satisfaction, cross selling and training. Regular and systematic client feedback should also inform these individual assessments.
"The over-emphasis on billable hours does not foster the Star qualities that clients value," said Shepherd. "Firms that harness the talents of their Stars and institutionalize their most desirable traits will no doubt realize benefits to their brand and bottom-line for the long-term."