Work + Growth

The Scary Office—Is Your Office Culture Unhealthy?

  • Are associates leaving before hitting the one-year mark? A high turnover rate is often an indicator of unhealthy culture
  • Every lawyer needs to vent from time to time, but when everyone is trash talking or constantly gossiping, your office culture might be problematic
  • Working within an unhealthy office culture can be rough, but there are ways lawyers can improve their situations

For better or for worse, office culture influences everything that goes on at a law firm.

You might love your job because of the friendly and positive attitudes among attorneys or because of a pervasive sense of teamwork, and you can thank office culture for that. But what if you struggle to name anything you like about your firm?

If even just thinking about your office gives you a scare, its very culture might be the problem. Below, let’s go over some of the signs that your office culture is so unhealthy it’s scary—and what to do if that’s the case.

High Turnover

Recruiting and onboarding attorneys requires a firm to devote plenty of resources. Because of that, retention is always a priority. While lawyers leave jobs for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with office culture, it might be a bad sign if employee turnover seems particularly high. If associates aren’t even reaching the one-year mark before fleeing to new opportunities, there’s a good chance there’s something dysfunctional about your firm’s culture.

Rampant Trash Talk

All lawyers get frustrated from time to time, and it’s totally normal for associates to vent to each other on occasion. But if it feels like everyone at your firm is trash talking other attorneys or their supervisors all the time? That’s a big warning sign. Rampant trash talk feeds into a negative culture, and it’s certainly something you don’t want to be associated with or have as part of your daily routine.

How can working in an office full of trash talking and gossip negatively affect your work?

There’s No Sense of Teamwork

If, like above, everyone is focused on trash talk and gossip instead of building relationships and helping one another out, your firm’s culture can’t possibly be healthy. A firm with a strong office culture is full of amiable, respectful lawyers willing to pitch in when colleagues need assistance or crises arise. If associates spend their days working only on what they’re concerned with before bolting for the exit door, and worse—if colleagues frequently throw each other under the bus—your office culture might be toxic.

Everyone Works Late and Never Takes Time Off

Yes, work-life balance is practically always a struggle for lawyers, especially in the beginning of their careers. But if you’re unable to get time away to take care of necessary things—or unable to take any vacation time at all, simply because your supervisors said so—your firm might have a culture problem. Not every big law firm is supposed to feel like a well-paid sweatshop.

Management Skills Are Lacking

Every lawyer makes mistakes. But if your manager has a bad temper, belittles you, or catastrophizes every mistake you make, that’s a big red flag. A firm with strong office culture will prioritize management skills, which means expectations will be clearly set and effectively communicated. If poor management seems to be a widespread epidemic and not an isolated problem, it’s an indication of a systemic problem.

You’re Stuck in A Scary Office … Now What?

Working for a firm with a negative culture is always a challenge, but you don’t have to automatically wave the white flag and give up. Pinpoint the biggest areas of concern and ask yourself what you—yes you, no matter whether you’re a junior associate or the managing partner—can do to improve things. Do you find that no one offers to help out those in need? Be the person who does. Does it feel like everyone at your firm is cold and unfriendly? Make an effort to be warm and gracious toward others, as well as to create programs and opportunities for coworkers to form stronger bonds.

If all else fails, investigate making a lateral move to a new firm. Once you have an idea of what it is at your current organization that rubs you the wrong way, it’s easier to know what to look for during the interview process and find a new firm with a more positive culture. If you do go this route, be sure to sit down and speak directly with some of the attorneys you’d be working with in any new role.