Skip to main content

How do you work out what a firm’s culture is before you join?

Written by: Ruth Fenton
Published on: 7 Feb 2017

Have you ever woken up and thought, why am I doing this? I feel unappreciated and miserable. I never see my friends. My boss is rude and generally horrible, I get told to cancel my holidays, clients are demanding and don’t understand the personal sacrifices I make to provide them with an outstanding service, chances of making partnership are non-existent…. there must be more to life?


Here’s the thing… every job has its down sides and law is no exception. Many lawyers leave the profession every year because of the reasons above.

The good news is not all law firms and chambers are the same. There are some amazing places to work, with great people. If you are having a hard time it is probably the situation and the environment rather than the work itself.

Problem is, how do you work out what a firm’s culture is before you join? Here’s how to scout out the perfect culture in five easy steps.

Know what you want! Write down what really matters to you in a work environment. Put the things in order of importance for example…

  • I want to see my friends
  • join a firm sports team
  • go to the gym at lunchtime
  • work from home
  • get coached
  • have a realistic chance of partnership
  • go on secondment

From this you can start to get an impression of the kind of firm or company for which you would like to work.

Different cultures suit different personalities.

People have different rules, values and beliefs. They appreciate different things. So it makes sense people like to hire people like them. This is the beginning of a firm culture.

To some extent the legal profession is still a man’s world and some law firms have a very long way to go from a diversity prospective. For example, I recently came across a job where they were asking for a first class degree from a top university. All 11 partners at the firm were white males and over 50. Knowing this small amount of information people start to form an impression of the firm. Chances are, the partners are looking for a junior clone of themselves.

“The relationships you build will determine the level of happiness you have in a job.”

Today you can find out a wealth of subjective and objective information in a couple of clicks. So research the people with whom you will be working.

Social media will be a great source of information, for example: Facebook (what they are like outside of work, their interests etc. you can use this to build rapport); LinkedIn (how they want clients and other professionals to see them); YouTube (on video you get a better impression of their personality); and Twitter (which will show you what is important to them).

Regarding the firm itself, read rankings, general media and their mission statement.

Ask them about their processes and what clients say about them. Glassdoor, Vault and Above the Law will give you accounts of people who have worked at the firm but read the comments with an open mind.

Would you join a gym or send your child to a school without looking around it first? Probably not. If you are offered a role ask to look around the office and speak to people before you sign on the dotted line. It is very different being in the conference area of a firm to seeing behind the scenes.

How tidy is the office, do people smile and say hello when you walk by, what is the general mood of the office? How forthcoming are they when you ask them questions like “what is the best and worst thing about working here?” “How would you describe the firm in three words?”

We spend so much time at work it’s important to get the right fit, otherwise it can affect our families, emotional wellbeing and career progression. Really do your research on the people you will be working with and the firm itself. If you are not enjoying work right now, it may be the environment you are in rather than the work itself.  Remember “change creates possibilities.”