In a recent feature in Law360, Haley Revel provides insight into how law firm leaders can bolster their employee experience strategy in order to foster a culture that cultivates brand ambassadors and improves business success.
Happy employees make for happy clients. This may be a cliche, but it’s also been supported by many credible research studies.
Across the board, organizations that cultivate a work environment where employees feel valued, supported and engaged show positive results in retention, client satisfaction, productivity and even profitability.
This is especially true for law firms, whose success depends on having skilled, motivated and engaged people. However, the nature of legal work often entails high-pressure situations, long hours and demanding clients.
Couple these factors with business uncertainty — as we saw in the last quarter of 2023, with slowing recruitment and a string of layoffs at U.S. BigLaw firms — and the result is often a difficult work environment in which high-contributing professionals may start to explore other career options.
That said, law firms do recognize that their employees are a critical business asset, and work hard to attract and retain them. Most offer the traditional employee rewards: excellent professional opportunities, career development, and top-tier salaries and benefits.
But the truly forward-looking firms are going much further than this. They have implemented a secret tool: an employee experience strategy, and the infrastructure required to support it.
An employee experience strategy refers to a deliberate, holistic approach to creating an environment where employees feel valued, engaged and fulfilled throughout their entire journey within the firm.
It encompasses various facets, including workplace culture, professional development opportunities, work-life balance initiatives, leadership styles, technological resources and overall employee well-being.
This strategy aims to align the firm’s goals with the individual needs and expectations of employees, fostering a positive and supportive work environment — leading to overall business success for the firm.
Research confirms that an employee experience strategy can offer a very significant return on investment. A 2022 Harvard Business Review article, for instance, discusses how a positive employee experience correlates with organizational performance, employee engagement and customer satisfaction.
And a 2018 report from the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute and Workhuman Analytics & Research Institute finds that “organizations that score in the top 25 percent on employee experience report nearly three times the return on assets compared to organizations in the bottom quartile.”
Another study by Salesforce.com Inc. from 2020 shows a striking correlation between positive employee experience and revenue growth.
Benefits of an Employee Experience Strategy
For law firms, the benefits of an employee experience strategy are manifold. Some examples are outlined below.
Attracting and Retaining Top Talent
Law firms are in constant competition to attract the best legal talent. An effective employee experience strategy helps create an environment that not only draws skilled professionals, but also retains them by offering a workplace culture that aligns with their values and career aspirations.
Enhanced Productivity and Quality of Work
A positive employee experience directly affects productivity and the quality of legal services. When legal professionals feel supported, motivated and engaged, they’re more likely to perform at their best, delivering high-quality work that benefits clients and the firm alike.
Client Satisfaction and Reputation
Satisfied and motivated employees are more likely to provide excellent client service. The employee experience influences how legal professionals interact with clients, affecting client satisfaction and the firm’s reputation in the legal industry.
Adapting to Changing Expectations
The expectations of the modern workforce are evolving. Younger legal professionals often seek meaningful work, work-life balance, career development opportunities and a supportive work environment.
A tailored employee experience strategy addresses these evolving needs, making the firm more attractive to a diverse pool of talent.
Tackling Industry Challenges
The legal industry faces its own set of challenges, including increased competition, technological advancements and evolving client expectations. An effective employee experience strategy helps law firms navigate these challenges by ensuring their workforce is equipped, engaged and adaptable.
Employee Well-Being and Mental Health
The demanding nature of legal work can lead to burnout and stress. Prioritizing employee well-being through the employee experience strategy not only supports mental health, but also reduces turnover rates and absenteeism — contributing to a healthier and more sustainable work environment.
Consistency Across The Full Employee Life Cycle
An effective employee experience strategy requires firms to focus on every phase of the employee life cycle, starting from the first interview. Recruitment, onboarding, employee development, performance management and offboarding — each of these stages should offer consistent and positive experiences that ignite engagement, loyalty and productivity.
A single negative interaction — such as a piece of software that is cumbersome to use, an outdated business process, or a policy that seems punitive or arbitrary — can undo a significant amount of goodwill. It often stands out more prominently in employees’ minds, overshadowing the positive experiences that came before it.
Recent research by Kincentric demonstrates the benefits of consistency, revealing that employees are five times more engaged when their experience is highly consistent versus low consistency. The same study found that only 42% of employees report a truly consistent employee experience.
This implies a massive opportunity for law firms to create a reliable and consistent experience for all employees, across all elements, leveraging an employee experience strategy as a competitive differentiator.
Focus on Signature Moments
Improving the entirety of the employee life cycle may seem like a daunting task. That’s why it’s important to focus on improving so-called signature moments — the make-or-break experiences that significantly shape an employee’s perception of the firm.
Start by mapping the entire employee journey from recruitment to exit. This will allow you to identify key touch points, such as onboarding, training, performance reviews, promotions, team collaborations and exits. Each of these signature moments presents opportunities for significant impact on the employee experience.
Pay attention to anecdotes or stories shared by employees. Certain instances or events — such as the time a partner went above and beyond for a client, or a project team collaborated exceptionally well — are often recounted and remembered, indicating their significance in shaping the employee experience.
Insights from managers and HR personnel who interact with employees across various stages can provide valuable perspectives on critical moments that shape the employee journey.
By integrating insights from various sources, you’ll be better equipped to identify pivotal moments that define an employee’s experience with your firm. These moments provide opportunities to target enhancements or address any issues within the employee’s journey, contributing to a more positive and impactful overall experience.
Success Starts with Measurement
Improvements in employee experience don’t happen by chance. This underlines the importance of conducting research to establish a baseline assessment of employee experience and measure it over time.
Firms might consider conducting employee surveys and focus groups using a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods to gather comprehensive insights. These can be augmented with frequent, short pulse surveys, used to capture immediate feedback and highlight trends or emerging issues.
The collected survey data must be analyzed to derive actionable insights. Firms can compare results against industry benchmarks or previous internal data to understand trends and areas needing improvement.
By leveraging these tools, firms can measure employee sentiment, amplify employees’ voices and address potential areas of disengagement promptly. Ignoring these insights is not just neglect; it’s a direct hit to the firm’s brand and reputation with clients and candidates alike.
The Ultimate Goal: Creating Brand Ambassadors
Positive employee sentiment isn’t just nice to have — it’s the catalyst for cultivating a team of passionate and dedicated brand ambassadors who can enhance the brand’s reputation and success.
Engaged employees who feel valued and aligned with company values are more likely to become passionate advocates for the firm. Many employees are active on social media platforms and have extensive networks. When they share positive stories or achievements about their workplace, their advocacy contributes positively to the company’s online presence and reputation.
And in fact, their genuine experiences and advocacy carry more weight than traditional marketing messages. When employees speak positively about their workplace, it adds credibility to the brand. A strong corps of engaged and enthusiastic brand ambassadors can differentiate the firm from competitors in a crowded market.
In the competitive landscape of law firms, the secret weapon for business performance is employee experience. As we’ve explored, the correlation between happy employees and satisfied clients isn’t a fad; it’s backed by credible research and tangible results.
By focusing on consistency throughout the employee life cycle, targeting signature moments and leveraging measurement tools, law firms can create a culture that breeds brand ambassadors — individuals passionate about their workplace and eager to share their authentic experiences.
Remember, it’s not just about practicing law — it’s also about fostering a workforce that becomes the embodiment of the firm’s success and reputation.
 How Employee Experience Impacts Your Bottom Line, Harvard Business Review, March 2022.
 The Financial Impact of a Positive Employee Experience, IBM Smarter Workforce Institute, 2018.
 The Experience Advantage, Salesforce.com, 2020.
 Global Experience Trends 2023, Kincetrics, a Spencer Stuart company.