So you’re not really feeling the love?  Or even the compassion?  How about being nice–can you at least get into being nice?

Fitting nicely into our recent blog posts about the more heartful arts, the November/December 2013 issue of the ABA Law Practice Magazine is entitled “The Business of Giving,” and features a story entitled “Being Nice.” Included in the article is an interview with Peter Shankman, the author of “Nice Companies Finish First: Why Cutthroat Management Is Over–and Collaboration Is In.”

While “nice” is not a characteristic that many would use to describe practitioners in our field, the point is not just to raise the level of our perceived niceness, as the tag line to the article– “how law firms can finish first”–makes clear.  It’s more about economics than charity. “Not only are “nice” organizations more pleasant to be around, they are more profitable…” Shankman says that “law firms… are mean when they don’t care about their customers, don’t consider the effects of their actions beyond the bottom line or when they treat employees badly.”  The consequences of “meanness” reverberates.  “In an era in which reputational risk has become a board-level concern, any allegations… of shady… practices can instantly stain a brand…”

The article hearkens back to the subject of our post– Adam Grant’s  “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success,”  and to Grant’s distinction between giving and taking organizations.  When the authors ask lawyers which their firms are, they usually reply “both,” but more taking than giving. Shankman and Grant propose that that is not the route to lasting success.  When the taking exceeds the giving by a wide enough margin, employees/partners disengage and start looking for someplace that offers a better ratio.

Here are some strategies the authors suggest for law firms to raise their niceness quotient:

1. Use “inbound marketing” more than “outbound marketing.” Instead of telling people how great you are, offer “gifts” of expertise or give your time to establish a trusting relationship.

2. Become a go-to lawyer/law firm. Establish the reputation as being the person/firm who can make sure the client’s concerns are addressed, even if that involves moving the client to another lawyer/firm.  Success in this area depends on being a good listener.

3. Create a nice firm culture– encourage pro bono work, promote teamwork, build information sharing software that makes firm expertise easily available to all (and also easily applaudable), and provide coaching for young or lesser performing lawyers.

4. Reconsider an “eat what you kill” compensation system.  Incentivize helping others in the firm become successful by allowing workers to give “organizational tips” that recognize others for their assistance, and that are then considered in their compensation.

And please play nicely.