Downs Rachlin Martin is the largest law firm in Vermont, with approximately 60 lawyers. The 70 year old law firm has five offices throughout New England. The management team, as part of its strategic planning process, engaged Leadership for Lawyers to assist with a culture assessment project, involving a survey of all lawyers and staff in the organization.
Mark Beese, president of Leadership for Lawyers, worked with the management team to design the cultural assessment tool, implement the survey, and analyze the results. The objectives of the project were to:
- Get feedback and validate a draft version of the firm’s guiding principles, which outlined the firm’s values. The management team uses these principles to make strategic and operational decisions.
- Get feedback on the priority of principles.
- Identify areas where there are gaps between firm principles, culture and observed behavior.
87% of the lawyers and staff responded to the survey and 95% of the respondents answered every question.
Once the survey was complete, management team members met with lawyers and staff in facilitated focus groups to discuss the survey results, the guiding principles, and the perceived gaps.
Based on the survey results and focus group discussions, the management team, with consultation by Leadership for Lawyers, revised the guiding principles and incorporated the prioritized values into the firm’s strategic plan. The firm’s management team also collected information and feedback on culture-behavior gaps that led to specific policy and management actions to better align behavior with values.
The Chief Operating Officer of Downs Rachlin Martin, described the project and its results:
“The project was an examination of culture and values. It included an update of firm values (Guiding Principles) that were developed with the help of employee input. The updated Guiding Principles were used to develop a new strategic plan and annual action plans that would help guide the organization and further strengthen the culture.
We wanted to update our values statement (Guiding Principles) and do a review of our culture. We wanted to hear from employees about their perceptions of our culture and their culture experience and figure out what was distinctive and powerful with our culture that we should stay the same, and what pieces of our culture should be nurtured to be better. We wanted to identify and work to improve any gaps between what our culture was to what we wanted it to be.
We wanted an updated set of Guiding Principles to guide the firm. We wanted to have a clear understanding about employee perceptions of our organization’s culture, and to identify the areas where we should strengthen and further enhance our culture. We wanted to understand how we could do better at living our Guiding Principles.
The project included a survey that we developed with the help of our consultant. All employees were encouraged to take the survey. Our consultant collected and compiled the results and provided a summarization of the findings. We then utilized the findings in group meetings with all employees to further understand our strengths and areas of opportunity. Feedback from the survey and the meetings was used to update our guiding principles. The guiding principles were utilized to create a three-year strategic plan. We then held a Directors retreat to review the strategic plan, set priorities for the coming year, and to discuss how we could do better in living our guiding principles.
We have an updated set of guiding principles to guide our actions and to communicate who we are and what we strive for. We are proud of our guiding principles and utilize them to set expectations, to communicate who we are, and to set our strategies and action plans.
We confirmed that our culture is very strong, but there were areas that could be stronger. We utilized the strategic plan and action plans to help guide management. Throughout this pandemic year, we have been amazed by the commitment and dedication of our workforce. We have a deep appreciation for the strong organizational culture we have. Although our endeavor started as a project, it is really a journey and we continue to use our guiding principles to guide organizational and individual actions.
We wanted help from someone experienced in law firm culture. Mark Beese had the experience and insights we were seeking.”