Trust is an incredibly powerful resource for any business. Workplace trust is the basis for strong relationships and is crucial to success in business. Why? Well, businesses are built on relationships. All businesses no matter their size or the industry in which they work rely on relationships. This is no more true than when it comes to law firms and chambers. The importance of trust in the legal industry cannot be understated. Trust has a huge influence on the outcomes of casework and future business for those working in law. Losing trust, whether it be with employees or clients is hugely detrimental.

Reputation is a firm’s most valuable asset

Trustworthiness is one of the most vital considerations that clients make when choosing legal counsel. To quote the official guidance of the Solicitors Regulation Authority: “˜Clients often place their confidence in solicitors during times when they are at their most vulnerable; assuming they will protect their interests, money and assets and personal, often sensitive, information.’

A meta-analysis by LawNet of nearly 70,000 satisfaction surveys and 5,000 experience reviews found that two thirds of new business for firms is won by reputation and perceived trustworthiness. On the other hand, only 4% was won on price. But when cost was important, clients were actually more concerned with the pricing structure itself than the final cost.

This highlights the need for transparency that led to the rule changes at the end of 2018 requiring firms to be more open about their credentials and pricing models. Clients are taking more interest in being regularly updated on the progress of their cases and getting to grips with the benefits of their chosen firm. It is therefore vital that firms take practical steps to meet the needs of the public.

Why low-trust firms are doomed to struggle

But it isn’t just the relationship between a firm and its clients that can cause issues. A breakdown in trust between co-workers can be disastrous for productivity. A study of over a thousand US workers, covered in the Harvard Business Review article “œThe Neuroscience of Trust,” found that respondents in the top quartile for workplace trust reported more than twice the level of energy at work, were over three quarters more engaged and had 50% greater productivity than those in the bottom quartile. They also experienced 40% less burnout from their workload.

With the current regulations demanding transparency, and prospective clients placing greater value than ever before on clear pricing models and regular updates, it would be problematic to assume that internal disputes don’t spill over to the client-side. So the question is, what steps can law firms take to foster trust in the workplace?

Here are a few tips for building trust and an open, honest culture in your firm:

  • Update your firm’s performance review methods
  • Harness the power of social employee recognition
  • Give people control over how they work
  • Prioritise management skills training for new partners
  • Build-in accountability to all you do

Update your firm’s performance review methods

The annual performance review is near-universally despised. Bosses hate conducting them, and employees dread sitting through them. What’s worse is that according to workplace analytics company Gallup, 8 out of 10 staff feel they are highly ineffective, and 6 in 10 managers believe the time that goes into setting them up is a waste of productivity due to the fact they are often untimely, based on best guesses and require a sizeable chunk of time to complete.  Regular but ultra-lightweight employee check-ins, such as those championed by Zensai  give both staff and managers a way to raise issues, share successes and present feedback in a timely effective manner while only taking a few minutes to complete.

Harness the power of social employee recognition

Giving staff a tool for social/peer recognition (such as Zensai), letting them nominate a co-worker for the great work being done that may be missed by leadership, is a great way to build a workplace culture based on trust. Employee recognition helps create bonds across teams and locations within a firm, helps senior leadership unearth top talent and acts as an effective motivator for anyone recognized. This could be especially beneficial for paralegals and other support staff whose work can often be overshadowed by that of fee-earning associates.

Give people control over how they work

One factor that can negatively impact workplace trust is when a worker has no control over how they perform their job. Be it non-standard office hours or the ability to work remotely: providing options for flexibility can be great for creating a sense of trust by making employees feel relied upon to complete their workload at their own pace. Flexible working is also expected, so it’s as much an issue of recruitment as it is one of trust. If you’d like to know more about flexible working then we work with dozens of great clients (some of whom in the legal sector) utilising a range of approaches to give staff greater autonomy in how and when they work. We’d love to introduce you. Or alternatively, read our recent blog on the topic.

Prioritise management skills training for new partners

And finally, it’s important to make sure that anybody entering a management position has knowledge of key management skills. Associates are often promoted for their skill at legal casework rather than any perceived management potential. Research by the CIPD connects rising levels of at-work stress to poor management style. Evidence-based leadership training can make employees feel they can be open with the firm’s partners.

A key feature of Zensai is the ability to track training for all employees, on an individual or department level. This means senior leadership can rest assured that their people have the training required to be trusted.

Build-in accountability to all you do

As a senior partner, acknowledging your errors or challenges as well as your successes, adds credibility to you. Building in processes that become a part of the firm’s culture, aimed at creating discussion and accountability encourages trust. Consider having a process of evaluation after major casework, or setting and monitoring key goals and objectives routinely. The latter can be achieved using Zensai’s SMART goal/OKR functionality.