On Friday, I was pleased to attended The Oxford Character (OCP) Project Law Symposium on character, culture and leadership in UK law firms held at St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford.
I was responding to a paper presented by Professor Amalia Amaya from Edinburgh University, who was looking at intellectual virtues and the practice of law. She was proposing that the key areas revolve around intellectual courage, open mindedness, intellectual vitality and perseverance, practical wisdom and creativity amongst other things. Given the increasing complexities of legal practice, together with a highly competitive environment, the challenge is how these elements are integrated into the training and every day activities of our legal profession. The challenge is even greater, given that we can no longer guarantee that all lawyers study the importance of these areas as they go through into the profession.
Recent changes in the regulatory environment in England and Wales means that there is no longer the concept of a qualifying law degree and this will no doubt have an impact on those who go through to study law at university. This means that the role of the firm and the role of role models within the profession becomes ever more important.
The Symposium revolved around the work of the Oxford Character Project and its UK business values survey. The results demonstrate that the primary value is that of collaboration with empathy, passion and courage being significant. This reflects the increasing importance of personal and emotional aspects of organisation life. Doubling down on values and purpose is important if business is to be a force for good in society and vital for firms themselves. Research by Accenture in 2021 demonstrates that consumers and colleagues are invested in the values of brands and the business to which they attach, and will move away from those with which they don’t align. This means that purpose becomes ever more important, together with the authenticity of that purpose.
In the legal sector, the findings demonstrate that empathy, communication skills, listening and approachability are the most important characteristics both internally and externally.
How can law firms, as private institutions competing to achieve their commercial goals, remain connected with the values and goals of society that the law is intended to uphold?