The Center for the Study of the Legal Profession at Georgetown University Law Center and TAGLaw recently published a survey showing the value of their culture to the growth strategies of mid-sized law firms. First, these high-culture awareness firms view culture as a key factor in attracting laterals, with 70% of the firms ranking it as one of the top two factors. (Coincidently, these firms registered a very high success rate with lateral hires—92% report that the majority of their firm’s lateral hires work out.) And secondly, these firms are cautious about laterals and mergers for fear of losing their culture–90% prefer organic growth over only 57% who rely on lateral growth and 19% on mergers.

Which doesn’t mean they don’t grow; in fact, the reverse is apparently true: “The firms in our survey that are growing the fastest were the same ones that are most careful about their human capital,” commented Lisa Rohrer from the Center for the Study of the Legal Profession.

“What this survey taught us is that the culture of a firm is an asset that can be used both to attract the right talent and to preserve a firm’s independence,” said Bob Sattin, president of TAGLaw.

Another development from the Center for the Study of the Legal Profession at Georgetown University Law Center is their publication last year of  paper on identifying associates likely to be partners. The paper Developing Lawyers for the Future: What Can We Learn from the Fast Trackers? examines the attributes of associates that make them successful.

As the article notes, “law students continue to be hired most commonly based on the law school they attended and their GPA, under the assumption that law school and GPA are related to future performance as an attorney. Transcript and resume review are typically accompanied by a series of thirty-minute interviews consisting of questions that vary from candidate to candidate. Consequently, hiring decisions result from a combination of the reputation of the law school attended, GPA, and the interviewing partners’ gut feeling… Recently, however, law firms have begun to recognize that knowledge, GPA, and attending a high-status law school are not enough to predict success as an attorney. This realization has led to more of a focus on ‘competencies’ and their impact on job performance…This research indicates that behavioral competencies—such as leadership, interpersonal, task-oriented, and communication-related competencies, rather than technical competencies that are unique to a particular industry or occupation—tend to have a high impact on work performance.”

Some competencies the study found among the successful associates, like core legal competencies and a drive for excellence, aren’t much of a surprise. Others, such as the ability to work in teams, being persistent and flexible, and working through fears and anxiety, are more so. Two attributes that signal self–confidence—“self-efficacy” or believing oneself to be competent and “internal locus of control” or feeling personally responsible for one’s progress—predicted strong results in teamwork, client service and communication. Of particular note is the comment that successful associates “are aware of what others can do for them, as well as what effect they might have on others. When working with others, high performers use their interpersonal understanding of others to influence and impact them, rather than using generic tactics. These individuals are also able to deal with conflict directly, while still maintaining a positive impression with others.”

These two products from Georgetown reiterate the importance of the “soft aspects” of practicing law– of culture and the attributes of emotional awareness and emotion management–not only in individual success but also in the success of a firm.  Nice to have some analytic affirmation for the choir and some hard evidence for those who weren’t so sure.