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Conformity in Law Firms: A Key to Success

published December 24, 2021

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Conformity is a topic not many people like to consider or talk about, but it is an integral part of law firm lawyers. The legal profession, substantial law firms, requires a lot of conformity from all attorneys. It starts pretty early with conformity receiving a reward in law schools, and it continues in law firms and other practice settings, such as in-house counsel. Attorneys also know that conformity brings fruit - when they conform, they get recognition from their superiors and get the money and stability they want from their job. This article discusses why conformity is essential for successfully practicing law and what happens when a lawyer does not conform.
 
 

Why Is Conformity So Important in the Legal Profession


Conformity is highly regarding in the legal industry, and it is necessary for practicing law. Success in the legal profession correlates directly with an attorney's ability to conform. Those who cannot or are unwilling to serve cannot succeed in an environment like a law firm.


Conformity starts to be rewarded and praised very early in kindergarten and elementary school. Many people do not want to conform to them as "bad" or "naughty," Such a label can negatively affect children's lives. Many of them can never get rid of this label and end up having issues with their academic performance, social circles, or dealing with their problems.

Most people (if not all) who choose to go to a law school and become a lawyer were never part of this "non-conforming" group of kids. But even those who were conforming throughout their early life sometimes stop serving at some point in their life. Some do so relatively soon in their careers and decide they cannot work as law students and leave law school behind. Other people stay in law school, graduate, and realize that they cannot conform, thus working in a law firm. Other attorneys start their careers successfully but, after a few years or even decades, conclude that they do not want to keep conforming and want to start doing their own thing.

Whenever these lawyers stop acting like they are expecting, they have to leave their law firm. Law firms expect conformity and cannot function when people do not do what they are supposed to. They are not interested in attorneys who are not 100% committed to doing their best for the good of the whole company. And if you have once shown that you do not want to conform by moving to a different practice setting or just taking a break from the law firm setting, law firms will probably not be interested in hiring you back. It would be too big of a risk to their work system where everyone has to conform.

Of course, attorneys who work at a very high level can afford to be non-conformists. People expect non-conforming behavior from substantial law firms and companies leaders, some politicians, or public figures. However, for attorneys to get to these levels, they had to conform when starting law firms.

Large law firms cannot function when attorneys do not conform. Big law firms have many clients who need a lot of work and are paying a lot of money to get the legal services they expect. To do this enormous amount of work, everyone must do their part. Bill tons of hours, finish assignments on time and with the expected quality, try to generate more business, and bring in more clients than other employees so that not only their legal careers but the future of the entire firm is assured.

Those are the business models for law firms, and if someone in the firm decides they do not want to function by this playbook, they become a liability to the group they are in. Not conforming to the firm rules can quickly result in not relying on this group of people and leaving it. Every lawyer stands before the crucial decision - is it better for them to conform and be a part of a particular group in a firm, or are they cut out to do something on their own?
 

Are You Better Off in a Group of Attorneys or Alone Doing Your Own Thing?


It is a crucial question that every attorney has to answer for their own life and situation. Choosing to be a part of a particular group of people who take care of its members means conforming to the group's rules, the law firm. Not working and doing things on your gives attorneys more freedom; however, it also means less security and more risk.

I am no different and had to make the same decision for myself. Before I decided to go to law school to start doing legal work, I did other things. One of the things I did was start my own business in the asphalt industry. I became pretty successful in it, and I enjoyed being my boss and earning money independently. It gave me the feeling that whatever happens in my life, I will always handle things alone. This experience changed how I looked at work because I knew I could support and motivate myself.

Once I started attending law school, it quickly became apparent that conforming and gaining people's approval in the same circles was the only way to advance. Attorneys have to impress the right people, and even that does not secure advancement. Many attorneys do not become partners and go from the firm because they cannot get approval from the right people. Others suffer by not getting assigned enough work. Partners and senior lawyers are often let go when they cannot generate as much business as expected. Other senior associates make partners but not equity ones. Those who did not want to conform and play by the rules of superiors just left the practice of law altogether.

Seeing this all around me only reinforced what I already knew about choosing between conforming and working in law firms versus doing what you want; therefore, having to make peace with not having a chance in large law firms. Because of my experience with being a successful business owner, I knew that I could make it on my own and did not feel such extreme pressure to conform to succeed.

If I did not have prior experience, I would probably impress my superiors and get their approval. I would try as hard as I could to conform to the firm's rules I ended up in and would try to impress different people in different groups. If I could not conform anymore, I would probably change practice settings or stop practicing law. Because to be able to play this game, people have to impress other people and conform. But such a life did not make sense to me, not after having previous experience.

Conforming and being accepted in a group are often connected to the attorney's ability to act and look similar to others. That is why attorneys in many law firms look alike. They dress the same, work the same, talk the same way, have similar interests, visit the same places, or live in similar neighborhoods. All of this proves their membership in the group and confirms they conform to its unwritten rules. If someone looks or acts differently, it means they are not working enough.

I vividly remember a guy in my class in law school who was the only person that did not get an offer from the law firms he interviewed in. It was not because he had terrible academic results or could not do the job. It was because he looked completely different from every other law student or attorney there was. Everyone else looked similarly, and it was what law firms expected. This attorney came from art school, had longer hair, did not dress as brilliant as the others, and was not interested. All of this showed that he was not willing to conform.
 

Law Firm - The Most Conforming Workplace?


If you look at traditional law firms, they are probably one of the most conforming workplaces. Of course, not every firm is the same, and you can find some firms that are more flexible and benevolent with their employees. But those are definitely in the minority. Most law firms stick to the conservative model where conforming is required.

Conformity in firms is not manifested only in attorneys looking and acting the same. You can also see it in attorneys willing to put in the time and effort that shows their hard work. Becoming an attorney is a form of conformity because successfully passing through several schools, various tests, and exams require discipline and harmony. Being successful in law firms is connected with accepting that you need to constantly impress the right people, whether other attorneys or clients. Attorneys also need to follow the written and unwritten rules the firm has to show they will conform. If they do not do these things, they are considered non-conformist and can affect their success.

It is why some of the lawyers who became critical public figures, such as Barack Obama or Bill Clinton, never practiced law in an actual large law firm. They are not ones to put down their heads and conform to the firm rules. This individuality got them so far in politics, but it also kept them out of firms.

Conformity is what is needed for law firms to function and handle all of their work. There is nothing wrong with that, and many other professions require this amount of conformity to operating correctly, such as the medical field or military. There is nothing anyone can do about it. The responsibility of attorneys is to decide whether they are okay with conforming and are capable of doing it to succeed.
 

Is Conformity Always the Best Way?


Currently, I have my own business again, although this time it is in the law industry. Because I have experience in law firms, conformity at the workplace is something I think about a lot when assessing how BCG Attorney Search is doing.

Based on what I was looking for in jobs, I have set up BCG Attorney Search to be quite flexible. I hire people I know can handle the work, so I do not control or guide their workdays. They can work independently without many rules, and thankfully, our employees are usually very self-motivated and function under this system very well. I have tried to introduce more oversight a few times, but it never ended up well. Many people quit during these periods of more control, and it persuaded me about one thing - many of us like to work independently, and we do not want to be easily manageable.

Absolute conformity is not something many people and attorneys can handle, which may be why the turnover is so high in large law firms. Not a lot of attorneys are content with conforming throughout their whole careers. However, it is how you set up the system, and it is probably not going to change any time soon. You have to decide for yourself whether you can and want to conform or whether you better spend time doing something else and choosing a different career path to being a prominent law firm lawyer.
 

Conclusions


Conformity is something that has been ingraining in the law industry for decades. Large firms need their attorneys to be conforming; otherwise, it would not be possible for them to handle all of their clients and work. However, most people are not in their nature to conform completely. For some, conforming might be okay because it brings stability and security, but most attorneys stop conforming at some point in their careers. Whatever type you are, you are the only person who can decide whether it is worth it for you to conform and find success in the world of big law offices or whether you should focus your energy elsewhere and do your own thing.

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