Good Lawyering vs. Good Leadership

Good Lawyering vs. Good Leadership

Good Lawyering vs. Good Leadership


Imagine observing a crop of young, driven attorneys over time. At the beginning of their careers, they displayed both tremendous work-ethic and adaptability. At midlevel they were aggressive, never losing a case. As junior partners, they worked tirelessly to increase their firm’s prestige, and its bottom line. As quantifiably the best lawyers at their respective practices, they’ve been assured a promotion to senior partner.

This scenario follows a widely accepted logic. Developing the best leader in the world of law means developing the best lawyer, right? Well, not quite. Mastery in the courtroom doesn’t necessarily equate to skillful firm leadership. While the traits described above are admirable, leadership is about more than just a mix of tenacity, reputation, and billable hours. There are other sets of important skills a leader must have to navigate their firm toward continued success. We will discuss several of these skills in today’s post.

The pragmatic, and the personal

The top brass at law firms to reward lawyers with leadership positions based on their level of success. But how is success measured, exactly? In caseload size, and in amount of revenue generated for the firm over the years. These are important statistics to be sure, and not to be ignored. Imagine the effect it would have if such a top performer up and left your practice. It is only natural that their financial clout allow them a greater say in firm decision-making. But how can you be sure that this person has the skills necessary to lead in a strategic manner? Furthermore, while they may have made the firm a lot of money over the years, what do they know about budgeting, and money management?

A law firm is a business, like any other. Businesses involve things like strategic planning, financial planning, and management changeovers, to name a few. As we stated in a previous post, the cultivation of “soft skills” at law firms—knowledge sharing, accessibility, and emotional intelligence—is very important. It is also, unfortunately, usually resisted. This resistance contributes to a contentious workplace environment, and negatively impacts worker retention.

Leadership is not only a heavy responsibility, but a highly personal one. Every interaction carries meaning. Everything said, whether it’s about associates, partners, or the firm’s trajectory in general, has a direct, or indirect effect. Those placed in leadership roles must learn to abstain from toxic language, and regularly communicate positivity during difficult times. They should eliminate tunnel vision, acknowledge a job well done when and where they see it, and possibly reward it publicly. Visibly rewarding great work in this way is not done solely for the sake of encouragement. It sets a solid precedent for what passes as a good job at a particular firm.

Programs and models

The entire culture of your law firm is shaped through the power its leader wields. Business savvy, and strong human relations are key for developing strong leadership. Law firms should invest in leadership progression training programs designed to build both of these in their younger recruits from the day they step through the door. These programs often focus in part on traditional law, but can also teach young lawyers about client relations, communications skills, public speaking, and marketing.

It should be stated that we do not suggest completely ignoring the old incentive system, built upon billing hours, originating business, and maintaining and growing client relationships. Law is a bottom-line business, after all. What we do suggest is that it be expanded to include other forms of contribution, be it in business management, or the enhancement of a firm’s overall culture. This ensures that associates with previously overlooked leadership qualities are noticed and rewarded along with other high performers.

In bringing everyone to the table, leadership is not just a shared burden, but a creative, collaborative experience. Collaborative leadership is incredibly effective for several reasons. Production increases without the stress and fatigue of longer work hours on one individual, and worker satisfaction improves. Different voices are heard more often in the group, and workers are able to relate to themselves and to one another as leaders in their specific roles. This helps to foster a sense of ownership of work done, and an investment among all in the future of the firm. It also builds positive rather than combative relationships among associates.


Brian Torchin

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