In French, esprit de corps means “spirit of the group.” It refers to the camaraderie that inspires each individual to work toward the group’s shared success. Esprit de corps is the heart of a healthy law firm — it represents the passion, support and motivation that are vital for building your firm’s culture and increasing long-term profitability.
Large or small, almost every law firm wants to improve its esprit de corps. The challenge is finding the time when your schedule is already maxed out. Here’s why it is worth the investment.
Beyond Happy Hour: What Does Esprit de Corps Look Like?
In the fast-paced, competitive environment of a law firm, esprit de corps grows from a shared belief in the firm’s mission or purpose — why does our work matter? Knowing the “why” behind the “what” is how you create alignment, commitment and focus.
Although a great step, weekly happy hours or scheduled outings will not by themselves create esprit de corps. Genuine esprit de corps comes from a conscious intention to focus on your firm’s culture. This means investing the time to:
- Ask critical questions.
- Maintain open communication.
- Provide support to all lawyers and staff members.
A firm has esprit de corps if staff and lawyers can agree with these three statements:
- I believe in the purpose, or the “why,” of our firm and want to be part of it.
- The firm is right for me. It aligns with who I am and where I want to go with my career.
- I enjoy working at this firm and I want to contribute.
Creating esprit de corps will lead to increased motivation, lower turnover, recruitment of more talented professionals, and improved client satisfaction. Recent research tells us monetary incentives are not the best form of motivation. Instead, the most profitable firms are those where people are passionate about the work they do, feel appreciated and have a strong sense of support and collegiality.
Five Ways to Start Generating Esprit de Corps
Here are five simple steps to get started generating esprit de corps in your firm.
1. Assess the current state of morale. This could be via an anonymous survey, but it must reflect the feelings of everyone in the firm — staff, lawyers, paralegals, management, part-time and full-time. It cannot be a snapshot of senior partners. Everyone must trust that firmwide information is being gathered and their input is considered in the decisions being made.
2. Communicate, communicate, communicate. People want to know what is happening where they work. Start an internal newsletter to report on important firm and people news. Include regular topics such as:
- Firm calendar
- HR (new hires, policies, benefits)
- Marketing (new campaigns, wins, ads, training)
- Office services (technology, research, food)
- Attorney and staff news (accolades, awards, publications, graduations, marriage and birth announcements, acknowledgments)
3. Tell your story. A critical aspect of esprit de corps is ensuring that everyone understands where your firm is at today, where it is heading in the future — and what their role is in both. This is important, so hold a firmwide meeting. (Note: There will be no “good” time for a firmwide meeting. You must make scheduling a time a priority to ensure your staff is aligned with the firm.)
4. Have fun together outside of work. Here is where happy hours come into play! Colleagues who get to know one another outside of work — whether at monthly practice group lunches or group outings to the ballpark — are more likely to develop collegiality.
5. Share your personal appreciation. A simple email, newsletter shoutout or handwritten note can go a long way. If your appreciation is authentic, make sure to let people know. Reach out to tell your assistant, associate and whole team the work they are putting in has not gone unnoticed.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Esprit de corps can only come from an authentic desire to build a positive firm culture. This means the decisions you make — and every action you take — must align with your firm’s purpose and core beliefs.
To build esprit de corps in your law firm, your actions must be true to your words.
Elizabeth Ferris is the founder of Ferris Consulting. With more than 25 years’ experience in marketing, business development and strategic planning and 18 years in legal marketing, she has advised some of the most successful North American and U.K. law firms. She has particular experience in advising firms with niche practices. A frequent speaker and author on legal marketing, Elizabeth has led workshops and planning retreats throughout North America, the U.K., Austria and Australia. Follow her @ferrisconsults.
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