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Law Practice Management and Technology

The Bottom Line Volume 34, No. 1, February 2013

Law Firm Morale — Much More than Smiley Faces

By Andrew Elowitt,Managing Director, New Actions LLC

The economic downturn of the last four years has hit the legal profession particularly hard. Declining firm revenues and unprecedented layoffs have become commonplace. Yet in these turbulent and unpredictable times, some law firms have continued to thrive and even grow. One of the most overlooked and underappreciated factors contributing to these firms’ robust health is their high morale. Firms with high morale are more stable and resilient – even during difficult times.

Morale is not the same as happiness

Morale is commonly confused with staff and attorney happiness. Managing partners and executive committees often equate the two and assume that morale will be high if they can just keep their staff and attorneys happy. They use any number of tools to boost happiness: holiday parties, fun retreats, pizza lunches, gift certificates, raises, bonuses, etc. While these are useful ways to acknowledge and reward employees’ contributions, their effect on happiness and morale can be short-term and even counterproductive. Over time, attorneys and staff may begin to expect these perks and even feel entitled to them. If they don’t receive them, they may become resentful, unhappy, and worried – What is the message that the firm is trying to send me by ending these goodies? Was it something I did or said?

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