Creating law firm leaders who stand out from the crowd

Beth Sears
BridgeTower Media Newswires

As law firms struggle in the face of new ways to gain access to legal services, creating a top- notch customer experience is the way they succeed. The role of leaders is key to a culture that beats the competition. The number one determinant of the success of any organization boils down to the quality of the leadership team and how they engage their people in the vision for the organization. All too often managing partners get their first leadership experience when they step into a leadership role in their firm. Rarely have they received leadership development skills that will allow them to take the firm to the next level. So, how can a law firm create leaders that stand out from the crowd?

Lawyers are trained to analyze and argue their opponents’ statements with facts, but this skill can become problematic when it comes to leading an organization. Lawyers are not trained to manage people, create long-term planning or run a business. In a nutshell, attorneys who run organizations need to develop their leadership abilities if they are to successfully lead a law firm.

Inexperienced leaders can lead to high staff turnover, lack of strategic direction and poor service for clients, which can send your clients to find alternative sources for their legal services. There are several things a law firm can do to dramatically improve the culture and success of the organization:

• Develop a shared vision for the firm and create a strategic communication process to articulate it to all members of the team: All too often the practice is focused on short-term goals based on billable hours, which creates a “me attitude” rather than a focus on the overall success of the firm. Leaders need to help employees understand where the firm is headed, and their role in bringing it to life. Consistent communication practices that reinforce the vision and behaviors consistently exhibited across the firm will support the vision.

• Develop an effective leadership team: This starts with selecting the right people for a leadership role, which means they need solid interpersonal skills. Leaders need to be able to coach and empower others by establishing performance goals with clear roles and responsibilities. They need to know how to get along with others and motivate a team.

• Develop leadership skills throughout: Although leadership skills are needed at the executive level, they are also required throughout the organization including firm administrators and lawyers charged with leading teams and projects. This includes giving and receiving feedback in a manner that builds people up. Attorneys are trained to win and often look for what is wrong instead of what is right. This will take a mind shift to help reorient them to see what is going well and recognize their people for their strengths.

• Develop accountability: One of the most prominent skills missing from many organizations is the ability to hold one another accountable. Once clear roles and responsibilities and established goals are created, the leader needs to understand how to support the employee and give feedback and recognition as indicated.

• Obtain missing skills: In organizations in need of strong leadership skills they can either recruit partners who have the skills or develop leadership skills internally for the whole team. This investment in the future of the organization is imperative if the firm is to excel in the face of mounting competition.

• Identify the “Why”: By next year 2020, 50% of the workforce will be millennials or younger and by 2025 that number skyrockets to 70%! The younger employee wants to understand how their work is making the world a better place so identifying the “Why” of your work can help to engage and retain younger employees. Taking your team through this process helps to inspire all your workers. Then train your leaders to use this information to engage and promote.

When you don’t invest in your leaders, you set them up to fail. Gallop found that only one in 10 people “possess high talent to manage,” which is the reason between 40-60 new leaders fail in the first 18 months. The investment in non-billable hours can be a challenge for many partners, but is a must in today’s competitive marketplace.


Beth Sears, Ph.D., president of Workplace Communication, Inc. is an interpersonal and organizational communication expert. Contact her at (585) 538-6360.