California Lawyers Association

Building a Culture of Authenticity

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By Ona Dosunmu

Ona Dosunmu at the CLA Leadership Retreat ©2019 Darin Fong Photography
Ona Dosunmu at the CLA Leadership Retreat ©2019 Darin Fong Photography

As anyone who spends more than a few minutes with me can attest, I care deeply about culture. One of the greatest opportunities I see in building the California Lawyers Association team here in Sacramento derives from the fact that 75-80 percent of the team is new to CLA—either having joined CLA after January of 2018 or joining CLA in January of 2019. Having so many new colleagues give us the opportunity to develop a workplace culture from the ground up.

As those who participated in the Winter Retreat know, we brought in an outside facilitator to help participants think about, talk about and reflect on CLA’s organizational culture. While we received positive feedback about the session, we also heard from many that they would have appreciated the opportunity to spend more time on the exercise, to go further and to dig deeper. This warms my heart because I’m one of those people who believes the old saying attributed to Peter Drucker that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Being clear about our organizational culture—what it has been, what it is and what we want it to be—is a necessary precursor to strategic planning. Being deliberate about culture will serve us well when we undertake a strategic planning exercise at our next retreat in early 2020.

A recent conversation I had with a member caused me to think about culture in even broader terms. You don’t need a Ph.D. in social science to know that many aspects of the culture of the legal profession are toxic and contribute to the high levels of depression, suicide, substance abuse and other manifestations of inner turmoil that disproportionately plague lawyers. This member and I found ourselves in a conversation about why this is the case. Yes, it’s culture. But what, specifically, is it about the culture of the profession that makes it so detrimental to psychological health?

We hypothesized that there are aspects of our profession that discourage us from expressing ourselves authentically. As the largest voluntary state bar in the country in one of the biggest and most populous states in the country, CLA can play a role in turning the cultural tide of the profession. One way to do it is by expressing ourselves authentically, relating to others authentically and allowing others to be their authentic selves in our relationships. We’re committed to making the profession as rewarding as many of us expected it to be when we went to law school and hope that this small step will help. Stay tuned!

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