On the Pulse…Culturally Speaking

Defense Digest, Vol. 23, No. 4, December 2017

by Christopher E. Dougherty, Esq.

We in senior management frequently talk about—and are very proud of—the culture of our firm. That culture is generated and sustained by teamwork, unselfishness, trust, honesty, humility, hard work, humor and more.

While Marshall Dennehey’s culture propelled us to be recognized by the Philadelphia Business Journal for the fifth year in a row as a “Best Place to Work” in the Delaware Valley, other tangible benefits are realized:

  • Our culture leads to longevity. People like working here. They remain here for a long time. That longevity translates into experience and expertise in civil defense litigation, and that expertise at all organization levels helps to distinguish our service from our competitions’.
  • Our trust in one another simplifies our business discourse. We can reach the heart of the matter instantly and without any need for “watching your politics,” “currying favor,” or “guarding your six.” There is a business concept called “The Speed of Trust,” and our firm is a proving ground for that maxim.
  • Our teamwork is amplified by our compensation system. We do not reward file originations—i.e., no fixed formula for compensation tied to the billables on work brought into the firm by an attorney. Our compensation system is built on trust. It is built on the concept that a client will be defended by the most qualified attorney for that case type and in that particular venue.


I thought it would be more meaningful to share observations and reflections of our firm and its culture from a few of our attorneys who worked at—and in some cases managed in—other law firms. Their perspective is insightful. Below is the first in an ongoing series to regularly appear in this publication.


The MDWCG Difference

By Terry Sachs

In more than 30 years of practice, I have been at a large firm, a small “boutique” firm and a mid-size firm. I’ve seen first-hand that each firm develops its own environment, or “personality.” The personality of Marshall is different from each of those firms.

Before coming here, I heard that assessment from people whom I have known and respected over years of practice. One told me that coming here was “the best move I ever made,” and others told me repeatedly how much they thought I would enjoy working here. I wasn’t sure how those assurances fit together with the fact that I have always perceived Marshall Dennehey as a place where people worked very hard, even compared to other firms with our type of practice.

The answer was always, “It’s the people.” I do really enjoy working here, and I agree—it is the people. Having said that, there are also several things about the way the firm is set up that makes the “people” piece work so well here.

With respect to the people, one friend here described Marshall Dennehey as aspiring to a “no jerks” rule. That seems to partly be a function of the firm’s history of people who are “self-made,” as opposed to being descended from generations of lawyers. These people recognize the same traits in others. There seem to be many similar personalities and interests at the firm, and there’s no sense that some lawyers are better than others because they went to “better” schools.

The culture here also seems to be a function of our type of practice. Most people started in this practice because they wanted to be active litigators in courtrooms and deposition rooms. The types of egos who want to “get rich quick” as lawyers or make big names for themselves at the expense of others aren’t doing insurance defense work, or aren’t doing it for long.

Since every firm presumably has some nice people, how does Marshall Dennehey retain a distinct culture, where the predominant feeling is that people work together well and genuinely enjoy doing so? That’s where two specific aspects of the firm’s structure seem to make the difference.

One aspect is that people aren’t paid based on business “attribution” points. There’s no “penalty” for bringing in lawyers from other practice areas for their expertise where appropriate or for sending work to other practice groups. That approach is good for the clients and for the firm. In addition, lawyers regularly ask to “round table” cases to get ideas on case handling or on specific issues, and their colleagues meet to lend expertise even though these sessions are generally not billable. I’ve never seen anyone treat such requests as signs of weakness; it’s just how people expect to work together to benefit the firm as a whole.

The other aspect is that people here aren’t paid based on calculating the precise profitability of each group and sub-group. Those calculations can lead to ongoing micro-aggressions (or macro-aggressions!) about which lawyer/support staff/administrator is really doing what for whom how much of the time. I’ve seen how that friction can ultimately impact how people work together and feel about one another.

These two aspects may not be something younger people at the firm are able to appreciate, but they affect the culture of the firm because they impact how we feel about the people we work with.

Our people and our structure combine to make us a “best place to work.” 


Defense Digest, Vol. 23, No. 4, December 2017. Defense Digest is prepared by Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin to provide information on recent legal developments of interest to our readers. This publication is not intended to provide legal advice for a specific situation or to create an attorney-client relationship. ATTORNEY ADVERTISING pursuant to New York RPC 7.1. © 2017 Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of our firm. For reprints, contact tamontemuro@mdwcg.com.