Family-owned businesses of all sizes and types play an important role in the global economy. In the UK alone, family-owned companies contribute to at least a third of the United Kingdom’s GDP. A large number of clients naturally gravitate to law firms that wear their family values on their sleeve. However, as a family-owned firm necessarily expands to accommodate all their new clients, they might butt up against the dreading growing pains.

Growing pains often encompass both the fear that family values will be lost, and that the close ties between the management and employees degrade over time. So how do we ensure that family values remain to be an important driving factor of the family-owned firms as they grow? How does keeping family values help firms build a strong image towards their consumers, competitors, and clients at large?

Here are some tips to hold on to those family values as your firm grows:

Know Your Core Values

In families, values are clear and parents are responsible for inculcating time-honored family values in their children. Family-owned firms are no different. Leaders should be able to define the core values that are considered to be non-negotiable in the organization. Things like honesty, open communication, transparency, or excellence should be clear to everyone in the firm. After all, a firm can’t express that they have values if they can’t even define what those values are!

When values are clear, it is easy to reinforce them as much as it is in a family. When some people display behaviors that are contrary to what the company believes in, a rehabilitative approach should be implemented rather than a punitive approach. Always try to improve an individual employee, rather than making them feeling useless – or, worse, kicking them out of the family!

Communication Through Periods Of Growth

Communication is such a powerful thing, whether in a family or a family-owned venture. Keep communication as open and constant as possible. Great communication can:

  • Keep employees’ morale high
  • Enable employees to open up to their management about any grievances they may have
  • Foster a spirit of belongingness and cooperation among everyone in the organization

However, the more a company grows, the more challenging it is to constantly communicate and keep communication as open as appropriate. Left unchecked, this could lead to something more serious, and people will eventually start leaving the firm to look for another place where the value of communication forms the pillar for continued success.

The key, therefore, is to always find ways to communicate with employees at all levels and encourage everyone to share ideas, concerns, or suggestions without fear of being treated with intolerance by anyone.

Perceptions Of Family Firms

A lot of family-owned firms are successful and have in fact become a driving force of the country’s economy. Amidst these success stories there are the inevitable struggles around giving a lasting positive experience to prospective clients.

Some people might dismiss family firms as nothing but “just a family firm” that couldn’t possibly be able to give them what they are looking for – world-class legal services. However, the opposite is mostly true. Firms that have grown from family origins to larger-scale can compete and succeed the market giants. How? By maintaining that family spirit while expanding their expertise.

Elk & Elk’s Family Values

Elk & Elk began as a family-owned venture, but it didn’t last long! They have consistently expanded their staff base, reach, and specialities, all while maintaining their core values.  The firm now has 87 employees, a testimony of their competitiveness in the industry. Most importantly, they hold on to their A-players, which is a reflection of close ties within the organization, a time-honoured family value.

Jay Kelley shared his thoughts on Elk & Elk’s family spirit on The Rankings Podcast:

“The risk of a family firm is the perception that it can create outside. When they hear the repeating names or they see brothers, people start to wonder what’s we’re all about. So, sometimes we have tried to make sure that people understand that while we did start as a family firm, we now have 87 employees. Our average lawyer tenure here, I think is 14 years right now. So we keep people, and that’s a reflection of those family values.

Sometimes we need to communicate that it’s not just a family firm because, well, what do you want to hire? You want to hire the firm that has the most resources. So we’ve got to have a way to let people inside to see that we have multiple nurses and multiple specialties on staff and I mean that we have our own entire marketing department. We have our own filming studio! It’s really two businesses – a law firm and marketing arm.”

The Reality

Keeping family values as a firm expands is challenging. However, these values are precisely what will take your family-owned firm to new heights, even getting ahead of the competition! As family-owned firms grow, they’ll find that their family values become a market differentiator which appeals to new clients. have proven strategies for growth and competitiveness. The real marker of success is demonstrated by maintaining those family values as the firm expands. After all, bigger firms are willing to spend millions to build that same culture in their own teams!