The Culture of Success

July 31, 2015

​​​"Culture will beat scheme every day.​" -- Chip Kelly, head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles​​​

​​

​What does this statement mean?  And how does it apply to the practice of law and the legal field in Philadelphia?

First, it means that culture -- the habit of excellence, doing the right thing at all times, treating all others with respect, and holding oneself to a standard of excellence -- will beat scheme -- the opponents' strategy, reputation, name recognition, popularity, credentials, and tactics, especially in the absence or lack of culture -- every day.

Here in my law practice, I strive to develop and demonstrate that culture, day in and day out.  I know from experience, on the other hand, that there are lawyers and law practices that place emphasis on scheme over culture.  Over the long run, even with the best scheme and best credentials, it's a losing formula.

What does culture over scheme look like in practice?

  • Client-centered, rather than attorney-centered: I'm more concerned about getting good, just results for my clients rather than any individual attention or recognition for myself.  On the other hand, there are attorneys who are all ego: either in-person through larger-than-life showmanship in Court or online by brandishing awards and credentials like flashy jewelry.  Putting the clients first means a constant recognition that, as attorneys, we are here to serve our clients, not the other way around.

  • Treating all people with respect: This means treating not just the judges and court staff with respect, but also the opposing parties and opposing attorneys.  I've known attorneys who regularly bad-mouth the opposing parties in their cases, if not publicly then certainly in private.  That's immature behavior for anyone, but especially for an adult.  And believe it or not, I've known attorneys who have bad-mouthed their own clients, giving them derogatory nicknames or labeling them with negative terms like "crazy" or "flake."  A true professional never speaks this way, even in private behind closed doors.

  • Leadership through action: A major component of true leadership is leading by example, by consistently doing the things that we're talking about here.  But another major component is leading by instruction and mentorship, which means in practice calling out inappropriate or counterproductive behavior by clients (for example, a client talking trash about the other party on social media) and also privately calling out other attorneys who act without honor (for example, an attorney who makes an intentionally misleading statement to the Court).  Historically attorneys were true leaders in society; for that reason, judges are given the honorific "Your Honor."  As attorneys, we must earn the respect of those around us by acting with honor and respect at all times.  This also means that managing partners and leaders in legal organizations must positively lead their teams on this point and not turn a deaf ear to immature speech on the part of any team members.  Being a leader means leading.

  • Avoiding the temptation of prejudice and generalization: One would hope that, in this day and age, a well-educated professional would never jump to conclusions, especially on the basis of immutable characteristics such as gender.  The temptation exists, however, especially for more experienced attorneys who have seen so many cases, to automatically jump to conclusions based on past patterns.  For example, there are still attorneys today who believe in the paradigm that, in every Protection From Abuse (PFA) case, the abuser must be the man and the victim must be the woman.  This, in spite of the fact that we all live in the same culture and same society, surrounded by images of violence on nightly news and in movies, plagued by systemic dysfunction in families, and damaged in our mental health as evidenced by mass shootings and spontaneous acts of violence -- which have been committed by men and women and which have effected men and women.  An attorney with culture, not scheme, will approach every client as an individual, not jumping to conclusions, because we very often never know the other side's point of view until we get to Court.  An amateur or biased attorney, regardless of age or experience, will let their prejudices blindly guide them.

  • Working with pride and instilling hope in our clients: As attorneys, let's remember our mission, we're supposed to be helping people!  Isn't this a cause for joy?  This is also a temptation, to fall into the trap of the mundane, where as attorneys we're necessarily always dealing with the problems of society: for example, crime, broken families, etc.  But again, our role as attorneys should be as counselors (of law) to guide our clients towards a positive future, where today's problems and issues have hopefully been resolved through the justice of the Court.  This point of an attorney with culture is similar to Pope Francis' exhortation to the Vatican Curia against having a "funeral face," that is people who are "scowling and unfriendly and think that, in order to be serious, they must show a melancholic and strict face and treat others — especially those who they think are inferior — with rigidity, harshness and arrogance." Such attitudes are often "symptoms of fear and insecurity about themselves."  An attorney with culture over scheme will remember what this is all about -- helping others -- and hopefully do so with joy as much as possible, so that we may set a positive example and instill hope and love to our brothers and sisters.


 

Here in Philadelphia and beyond, let's follow Coach Kelly's leadership and example, at least on this point: in your life and in your career, cultivate the culture.  Culture > scheme.

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F. TIGHE BURNS, ESQ.

215.732.0101

230 S Broad St, Suite 1400
Philadelphia, PA 19102