30 November 2012

The rise of the 'spiritual' law firm

Law firms need to follow corporate trends and embrace spirituality, says Robert Gogel, arguing that it will enhance lawyer performance and self-esteem

The path to spirituality

The corporate world has been embracing spirituality for many years -- and more recently, law firms have begun to understand its importance in their own organisations.

This idea of spirituality in the workplace has taken on many definitions and manifests itself in various ways. Spirituality can very broadly be seen as the connection we have with ourselves and others within the surroundings where we live and work.  It is thus embedded in various aspects of a firm, especially when we appreciate the emergence of the organisation as a core element of an employee’s social construct.

Talent game

Attracting people and building a unique value proposition are two critical challenges faced by all law firms and clearly defining spirituality and its relevance provides an opportunity to get ahead in the race for talent. The challenge however, is to effectively leverage this idea and embed it into the firm’s ethos.  While spirituality is reflected in the ethical behaviours of the firm in its dealings with all of its stakeholders, it is also often found hard-coded  in human resources and other firm-wide policies that make topics like inclusiveness and diversity  core values within the workplace.

Given the global, multi-cultural nature of today’s law firms, a potential  danger is for this idea of spirituality to be extended to a religious context and the belief that there is a higher force that is the source of all truth and meaning.  Such confusion with religious spirituality must be avoided at all cost.  Rather, senior partners should instead seek to proactively understand associate’s needs, values and beliefs (which can differ from country to country, across cultures, and from different inflection points in an individual’s life cycle) and identify avenues to truly align these with the broader vision, goals, and values of the firm.

Search for meaning

With the ongoing economic slowdown and the steady transnational mergers of law firms creating an ever-changing market landscape for legal services globally, employees now seek something more than just a job and a pay check. The younger generation is not only looking for something else; many of them are demanding that their employers do something more as institutions and as employers. At the same time, the older generation feels that their bond of trust to the corporate world has been broken and an emptiness that has set in for many individuals who have little hope for salvation. Employees are seeking meaningful environments that will enable them to develop, grow and find satisfaction in the jobs they do and the roles play.

While it is unlikely that firms will take up spirituality as a cornerstone of their operations any time soon, it is abundantly apparent that this is not a topic to be relegated as something for the HR department to address. There is a growing sense that as employees seek a greater meaning from their everyday jobs, it is imperative for firms to step up and play a greater role in providing the means and environment where individuals can define their own spirituality and put it in the context of the work environment.

Corporate responsibility

There exists a school of thought that suggests Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) was a key construct invented for this idea and provides a collective vehicle where spirituality can be warehoused. Yet, what has remained unclear is whether this has actually achieved the objective of providing the employees with the means to achieve a sense of individual fulfilment and how far it has enabled individuals to derive a holistic meaning beyond their routine jobs. Law firms must now think of clear avenues that allow differentiation in the eyes of the workforce as well as their clients; it will soon be an imperative to be identified as an organization that is “spiritually aware.”

Core drivers

Doing this will require firms to understand, assess and map their employees’ core drivers, engage with them more holistically, and support them as they seek to realise a sense of self-esteem. Firms today rely on their leaders to drive this spirituality, through their attitude, energy, enthusiasm, and leadership styles. Partners and juniors both play a critical role for the firm and both look to the executive leadership to inspire and focus individuals to deliver superior outcomes. The drive should be to create an environment where the individual is free to identify a path to spirituality and the organisation’s endeavour is to support this journey while relating it to the broader organisational goals and values.

Robert Gogel is the chief executive of of global technology company Integreon

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