Work Ethic

Kathy Fortin

January 20, 2021


Work Ethic 


This blog post, the first of the new year, addresses an old concept. Work ethic. What does a strong work ethic mean to you and to your firm?

Those of us from certain generations most likely learned about the importance of having a strong work ethic that meant certain things. For me it is about taking your job seriously, working conscientiously, and being depended upon to perform to the best of your ability. It means showing up and taking ownership of whatever the job requires and having pride in our livelihood. It also means having respect for our fellow workers and recognizing that there is no replacement for hard work. Our DNA helps us understand that we must work to get ahead and strive for what we want. The old expression, “You get nothing for nothing” says it clearly.

I often hear from law firm founders that younger workers leave the office at 5:00 and do not seem to work as hard. While I cannot claim to know what younger generations would say their views on work ethic are, my sense is that ambition, pride, and hard work matter to them too. It may be important to understand the different perspectives they may have on work-life balance, While the 30-year-old may not work in exactly the same manner as the 60-year old, this may not be all bad. If your standard may be to work 50 hours a week and your young associate may operate on the basis that a full week is 40 hours, if he or she is charging through the work and accomplishing as much in less time, perhaps this work ethic is more valuable than you realize.

What can senior lawyers do to address the work ethic issue? Here are a few thoughts.

  •  The work ethic will be different in every law firm, whether the office is made up of five people or 50.


  • Reflect on the culture of your law firm and whether it parallels your employees’ work ethic. Some firms may require lawyer billable hours, whether at 1,800 or 1,400—and others may have no requirements.


  • Be clear in making sure all employees understand the expectations of their role, beginning at recruiting and hiring, and thereafter through firm communications about policies and practices.


  • Communicate with staff during annual reviews, firm retreats, and staff meetings about what is going well and where improvements are needed.


  • Set the example you want. Be the role model and mentor who influences those who need someone to help them learn what they may not know.


  • Recruit new employees that fit your firm’s work ethic. How can you address the issue during interviewing? Here is one suggestion: You could inquire, “Tell me about your work ethic.” Think of other new ways to screen applicants.


  • Be flexible and open to learning about new styles and approaches that your employees have about work. You may be surprised that some assumptions you have may be incorrect. You may even learn that there are some approaches that are better than you think.


It is important to recognize that you can start anytime to work on improving your firm’s work ethic and getting your firm on a better track. Too often, law firm managers accept the status quo and miss this opportunity.