This sponsored post comes from writer and former attorney Jennifer Anderson on behalf of InfoTrack. You can find more articles and resources to help build your legal career at InfoTrack’s website.
The practice of law is highly dependent on trust. Clients need to trust their lawyers. Lawyers need to trust their clients. We all need to trust in judges, juries, and the justice system as a whole.
Yet there’s one critical aspect of trust that legal professionals rarely talk about: the trust that we have in one another as colleagues within a law firm setting.
Workplace trust is critical to a successful practice. In fact, people who have a high level of trust in their employers exhibit, among other things, 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% greater productivity, 13% fewer sick days, and 40% less burnout.
Business leaders seem to know this. In fact, 96% of CEOs report that building and maintaining trust is a top priority.
So, if trust is so important, how can law firms begin to foster the type of trust necessary for success?
In this article, we’ll break down the science of trust, discuss why it is important to the workplace, and then provide a few tips for how your firm can do an in-house trust tune-up.
The science of trust
For some time, scientists have been studying the origins of trust. They’re interested in knowing, for example, why we trust some people and not others.
What they’ve found is that trust is highly dependent on a hormone/neurotransmitter called oxytocin.
Oxytocin is probably best known as “the love hormone” because it’s the stuff that flows through our brains when we’re first falling in love. When being around a particular person makes us gush oxytocin, we tend to not only feel happy, but we also feel trust.
It turns out, however, that oxytocin can help us to feel good and trust the people around us in a variety of settings, including work.
Conversely, if oxytocin production is inhibited, we tend to feel bad.
Not surprisingly, high stress is a major oxytocin inhibitor. That could be a problem for a lot of law firms.
Obviously, then, if law firm leaders could find a way to increase oxytocin — thereby increasing trust — they might just see exceptionally positive outcomes.
Fortunately, one group of scientists has spent decades studying those behaviors that can increase oxytocin (and trust) in the workplace. Here’s what they found:
What fosters trust in the workplace
Given the link between oxytocin and trust, it’s not surprising that doing things that make people feel good in the workplace are also the things that foster trust. We’ve picked those things that are easy for any law firm to implement immediately.
#1: Recognize great work
Of all the factors they studied, scientists found that public recognition had the greatest impact on trust at work.
Interestingly, recognition not only made the recipient of the praise feel good, it also encouraged other people to do better work.
The good news for law firms is that there are plenty of opportunities (and plenty of ways) to recognize your colleagues’ work publicly. Stop thinking that people are “just doing their jobs” and start noticing how much impact it has when each person does their part.
Build a habit of calling out those accomplishments, even if you feel like they’re relatively minor. The more you recognize that good work, the more motivated everyone will be to go above and beyond next time.
So, go ahead and give those kudos. They probably help more than you know.
#2: Offer some flexibility
Legal professionals work hard under incredible deadlines.
There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re chained to your desk for weeks, months, and years on end. If firms offered greater flexibility on where employees worked and what hours they spent working, they might just create a greater environment of trust.
Think about it — if you treat employees like you think they’ll take advantage of you as soon as you turn your back, you’re clearly showing them that you don’t trust them. At best, that’s an unpleasant work environment. At worst, your employees assume that you don’t trust them because you wouldn’t be trustworthy in their place, so they shouldn’t trust you as a leader.
Remember, your goal is to create more oxytocin. A draconian work environment is not conducive to happy brain chemicals, is it?
In one interesting survey, researchers found that nearly half of employees would trade a 20% raise for greater work-life balance.
There’s something to be said for feeling trusted that you’ll get your work done on time, regardless of where or when you do it. This may be especially true for legal professionals, who tend to be more independent.
#3: Share information firm-wide
There’s hardly anything more toxic to a workplace than employees suspecting that “something’s going on” and having management stay quiet on the issue.
In this environment, rumors and gossip can quickly get out of hand. When there’s no information coming from leadership, people fill in the gaps with their own speculation.
As it turns out, sharing business information broadly is a great way to foster trust.
Not surprisingly, one study found that workplace engagement improved when managers simply made a point to communicate with workers daily. As an added bonus, your team is more likely to communicate with you if they feel confident that you’re sharing information with them.
#4: Admit the need for help
Another important thing law firm leaders can do is to admit when they are struggling and need help.
Trying to appear too perfect is a common leadership mistake.
Trust us — your team already knows about your flaws. By owning your weaknesses, you prove that you know about your flaws, too, and show that you’re prepared to take the right actions to mitigate those shortcomings.
Researchers found that by revealing their vulnerability, leaders trigger an oxytocin response in employees that causes them to feel empathetic.
That empathy then turns to action and the group can solve nearly any problem collectively.
More importantly, though, that honesty means you can come together with trust from all sides. You show that you trust your team to step up to the plate, and they trust you to keep them in the loop on important issues.
How to perform a trust tune-up in your firm
The good news about performing a trust tune-up within your firm is that it is easy to do.
We suggest you start slow and work your way toward becoming a trust powerhouse. Like everything in law firm culture, it takes long-term, consistent effort to change attitudes.
On top of that, cultural change is a matter of habits, and habits take time to build. It’s much more realistic to choose small actions that you can do consistently instead of trying to make a sweeping change all at once.
If, for example, you chose to work on your transparency and implement one bigger trust-building exercise per quarter, by the end of the year, you’d likely see a huge difference in the way employees trust one another in the workplace.
If that pans out, then you may just find the increased energy, increased productivity, and decreased burnout that researchers have experienced in their decades of work on this topic.
Those are goals that any law firm would be proud to reach.
InfoTrack is a legal software company with integration products that streamline the litigation process. Our platform connects to popular case management systems and document management systems to automate tedious litigation tasks and processes.
With InfoTrack, law firms can order eFiling, service of process, eSignatures, and more—directly from the tools they already use. The integration prepopulates case details, syncs court documents across systems, simplifies billing, and more.
We serve tens of thousands of legal professionals across California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, New York, and Texas. InfoTrack helps law firms of all sizes and practice areas improve productivity and increase profitability. Learn more here.