Biglaw keeps imposing draconian office policies or passive aggressively spilling to the media that hybrid policies “just aren’t working.” But the overarching question remains: why?
Is it the work product? No, firms made money hand over fist during the lockdown. Is it training? A valid concern, but not one that hinges on 3 vs. 4 days in the office. Is it that some partners just want to haul their employees into the office to be surrogate friends? Well… probably actually.
But most office discussions boil down to vague worries about “culture.” Though we’re only a few months removed from a Biglaw firm training presentation scolding young associates “you are online 24/7” so maybe firm “culture” isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.
If firms are serious about culture, they need to stop forcing people into an office and hoping culture develops like you’d pen in a retired thoroughbred and a broodmare and think about building an office environment that people actually want to come in for.
We’ve chronicled Seward & Kissel’s efforts on this score in the past. They built the unofficial world’s longest miniature golf hole. The held a Pi Day baking contest. The firm is putting in the effort to get people into the office (but out of their individual offices) to mingle and build genuine relationships across groups.
And the firm did it again with a Family Feud tournament.
Partner Steve Nadel, who quarterbacks these efforts, explained that two associates from the Investment Management group — Katie Agoglia and Connor Smith — asked to set up a tournament just for their floor. With the help of the IT Department’s Chris Cao, they managed to get a full scale version of the game going on the screens in the conference area. That prompted the Management Committee to ask for a firm-wide event.
Seven floors across two offices took part in the tournament across a couple of days this week to win a catered lunch and, if they successfully achieved a 200+ point final money round, the players each won an Amazon gift card.
“We want all our culture events to be so memorable that people will be talking about it years later,” Nadel said. “And their friends at other law firms who hear about it say ‘Seward & Kissel sounds like a great place to work!’”
Ultimately, Floors 20 & 21 and the DC office got through the quarterfinals, with floor 20 and (the quarterfinal bye team) floor 24 making the finals. Floor 24 won the whole thing, scoring 202 points to win the Amazon gift cards.
Family Feud isn’t necessarily for everyone, but that’s why it’s just one piece of a broader strategy. Mini golf, baking, the Feud… maybe a trivia night. Throw in more traditional socializing events like organized lunches and happy hours. This isn’t something you confront from one angle. It takes time and folks willing to put in the effort, but it makes the firm a place that makes people want to come to the office because they have friends there worth coming in to see.
Congrats, yet again, to Seward & Kissel for understanding this.
No word on whether Nadel opted for a Louie Anderson or Steve Harvey approach to hosting. Maybe more of a John O’Hurley?
Earlier: Seward & Kissel Designs World’s Longest Miniature Golf Hole
Law Firm Celebrates Pi Day With Greatest Baking Show On Earth
‘You Didn’t See Your Kids Before The Pandemic, You Shouldn’t Expect To See Them Now,’ Says Elite Law Firm Partner
Biglaw Training Presentation Says ‘You Are Online 24/7’ And That’s Not Even The Worst Advice
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.