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Law Practice Magazine

The Management Issue

Effective Office Communications

Carol Schiro Greenwald


  • Gen Z workers want socially relevant, individual growth-oriented values practiced in their law firms.
  • To meet their demands, most law firms must replace a traditionally negative, hierarchical culture with an inclusive, wellness-focused, positive culture.
  • Effective communication skills enable leaders to establish dialogues that involve rank and file in the move to redesign their culture around the new values. 
Effective Office Communications

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Law firms are in the midst of a 180-degree culture shift away from the traditional hierarchical, often Hobbesian, workplace environment. The change is fueled by demands from Generation Z and Millennials. They are entering the workplace with distinct perspectives on what they expect from their employers, how they view work-life balance and what they value in terms of corporate culture. They anticipate a future where work aligns more closely with personal values and workplace culture embraces both individual wellness and socially conscious values.


A law firm’s culture is not a written document. It’s the sum of everybody’s accepted everyday behavior and interactions. As defined by Jordan Furlong, “A law firm’s culture is the daily manifestation of its explicit performance expectations and implicit behavioral norms—what is encouraged and what is tolerated. And the culture that a law firm develops and sustains has an impact on its productivity, retention rates and morale—positive or negative as the case might be.”

By 2025, Gen Z will represent one-third of the workforce. Adapting to their expectations requires a major cultural shift. Only by embracing these changes, can law firms attract and retain Gen Z talent.

The new culture needs to reflect environments that are flexible, diverse, technologically advanced, supportive of mental health and committed to sustainability. It requires not only policy changes, but also a re-evaluation of corporate values to ensure they align with those of Gen Z.

Change is difficult for many law firm leaders raised in the in-person, demanding, mercurial, sweatshop environment common among 20th-century law firms. Even though many older leaders lead firms that give lip service to flexibility by offering a hybrid work schedule, they themselves are still undecided as to the efficacy of the new culture demands and unsure as to how to implement them. This column looks at some of the new demands and suggests ways law firm leaders can address them.

What Gen Z Wants

Their main requirements impact their own job specs and the broader cultural values of their firms.

Chief among them is flexibility––the right to choose where they work and when they come into the office. This flows from their belief that work-life balance is the way they want to run their lives. Work is not the supreme priority it was for 20th-century professionals. Instead, it is only one of many priorities.

Because they bring their personal backgrounds and perspectives to work with them, they want their firms to implement the values of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) so that they feel accepted.

Gen Zers were raised by parents who felt it was important to be very positive and supportive of all their efforts. So, in the workplace environment they continue to want to feel safe, appreciated and valued. For them, traditional feedback, primarily focused on areas that need improvement, doesn’t work. They want balanced feedback with praise for work well done as well as suggestions for improvement.

They expect their own work to serve a purpose that aligns with their values. They want it to be meaningful. They want to see the impact of their contribution to the firm’s values and goals. Many of them care deeply about the state of the world. They want firm support for the sustainability initiatives they believe in, for the good of the planet.

They seek growth and development opportunities. They know they need mentoring and education in interpersonal skills in order to develop necessary leadership skills. This demand reflects the knowledge that work from home can negatively impair career progression, and the reality that many of them experienced mental illness issues during COVID. They want their employers to focus on well-being activities to alleviate the negative impact of personal stress and burnout. These can range from the requirement that vacation days must be used to paid-for counseling.

Finally, they want financial security. Many began work in the uncertain gig economy where pay could be low or nonexistent. They want the security of a solid paycheck.

A New Kind of Leader

Gen Zers want leaders who create progress by influencing and inspiring others to do their best. They look for leaders who are accountable, adaptable, trustworthy, reliable, honest, empathic and genuinely interested in listening to and learning from others.

To address these demands, firm leaders need to turn their culture in a positive direction, creating a catalyst for participation, collaboration, engagement and productivity. Implementing this kind of fundamental cultural change begins by changing the communication culture. Formerly characterized by episodic, top-down, often negative demands, today’s dialogue needs to be continuous and based on genuine curiosity as to others’ viewpoints. It needs to generate discussion in an environment that ensures respect and trust among all participants.

Communication Is the Key to Cultural Change

Effective communication is the starting point for movement toward a positive-growth culture. It offers dialogue between people who respect differing viewpoints and acknowledge the right for all to be heard. The goal is co-creation of the new culture. It works because it is the best technique for connecting people, and connections form the roots of a positive workplace.

Effective communication doesn’t require homogeneity of opinions. Rather it creates an open forum for dealing freely with divergent, often antithetical, opinions.

Effective communicators focus on their audience. They ask them what they want to come out of the conversation. They use open-ended, personal questions to elicit the motivations and emotions embedded in each speaker’s opinions.

Good communicators not only focus on others, letting them direct the conversation and set the pace, but also really listen to them. The process itself values each participant for their contributions and ideas.

Gen Z values authenticity and transparency from their leaders. They want them to acknowledge errors and be honest when they don’t have a solution. Leaders can meet their expectations by being genuine in their communications, soliciting feedback and involving employees in their own decision-making processes.

Rank and file want to feel valued and appreciated for their contributions to the dialogue. To achieve this, leaders need to initiate regular, ongoing dialogue and be receptive to employee signals when they want to initiate conversation. They need to treat everyone equally, and make them feel seen, understood and valued.

Meeting Gen Z’s workplace demands requires leaders to be authentic, flexible, inclusive, technologically savvy, supportive of personal wellness initiatives and focused on opportunities for development. As the culture changes, the ability of leaders to adapt to the evolving expectations of the workforce will be crucial in navigating the challenges and opportunities of the 21st-century workplace.