Law firms face a particular challenge in growing talented lawyers into well-rounded organizational leaders. While the majority of lawyers focus on excelling at a technical and individual level, they soon realize they must shift their mindset and focus on the interpersonal skills and insight to make them truly great leaders. In a competitive and complex profession, this is a multi-faceted challenge, made even more complex by the career aspirations of individual lawyers. From interns to associates to partners, success requires law firms and their people to all be pulling in the same direction, at the same time.
Without active career management and leadership skills development, law firms run the risk of having unsettled and poorly integrated staff, which raises the likelihood of poor performance and, ultimately, talent drain. This, in turn, impacts negatively on client service levels, while prior investments in human capital development are likely to vanish down the black hole of sunk costs.
Legal Leadership is Nuanced
Viewed from the perspective of the firm’s business objectives, leadership in a legal environment requires a range of skills that don’t necessarily touch on the practice of law itself. These include:
- Business planning and priority setting
- The ability to create a productive and respectful working environment
- Effective internal and external communication
- Strategic human capital planning—the ability to attract and retain up-and-coming talent
- Leadership and management skills able to align disparate firm constituencies
- Business development and networking skills
These skills are seldom developed through trial and error. The corporate world has long understood this, which is why large organizations routinely invest heavily, and early, in leadership development. In recent years, legal practices have also recognized that achieving a sustained competitive edge requires a quality leadership pipeline—and that this pipeline is best strengthened through specialized coaching.
A New Set of Skills
In addition to managing more sensitive client relationships, legal leaders find themselves interacting with an ever-widening range of stakeholders, from articling students and associates to case matter specialists and opposing counsel. They are frequently called on to act as mentors to junior associates and other colleagues, while also being asked to play a central role in establishing company goals, setting expectations and managing staff.
Rising to these challenges requires the development of a specific set of leadership skills, including the ability to:
- Listen to and assimilate diverse viewpoints, collaborate to build consensus, and inspire people rather than compelling action
- Resolve conflicts, motivate talent, and foster an inclusive work environment by closing age and experience gaps
- Gain the self-awareness, self-control, and self-direction required to lead with confidence while supporting others in
It is difficult to manage this development process within the pressurized context of daily legal life. Lawyers must be willing and able to take an honest look at their strengths and weaknesses in a confidential and non-judgmental environment. This is generally only possible via a specialized, focused intervention.
Working with an experienced coach allows lawyers to become better leaders through a managed process, using real-world scenarios drawn from their own experience. Crucially, they are then able to tackle the challenge in a clear, facilitated environment, rather than being expected to develop these essential skills in an ad hoc fashion.
Reaping the Rewards
The benefits of leadership coaching accrue to the firm and the individual lawyer alike.
In strengthening its lawyers’ leadership skills, the firm improves its ability to respond to evolving client needs—which improves client retention and overall performance. The organization is also able to ensure that its lawyers’ personal career trajectories are aligned to that of the firm—and to take remedial action if this is not the case.
For their part, lawyers develop a range of skills that can help them improve their professional and personal relationships—by communicating better, becoming more patient and self-aware, delegating more effectively, improving team performance, enhancing time management and finding that coveted balance between work and life. Success in these areas creates a clear edge on the path to partnership, and enhances long-term career prospects.
Taly Fleischer is a Director with our Circle & Square practice of Farber. This group has three service offerings, corporate training, consulting, and leadership coaching. Taly leads the coaching offering, which utilizes her own frameworks and leverages the proprietary Circle & Square methodology. Taly can be reached at 416.496.3751 or firstname.lastname@example.org.