Stell: Next Generation Leadership
What does law firm leadership look like?
Too often, it’s an outdated model where reward goes to the most senior, regardless of contribution. Where leaders look for perks rather than developing servant leadership concepts. Firm partners hold tightly to decision making and there are clear lines of distinction between partners and associates, lawyers and all others.
There is no discussion about the future of the firm or really much discussion about anything strategic.
As a result, many law firms end up being one generation firms. When the current firm owner retires, the firm will cease to exist. This keeps everyone in the firm unsettled. While they may be content today, they don’t know what tomorrow brings.
The practice operates under the status quo: we know our clients, we know what they want, and we aren’t worried about them leaving.
However, this client view doesn’t always fit with reality. Client surveys consistently show clients are not satisfied with their law firms and, when a better opportunity comes along, they will leave.
So, what can you do to exhibit leadership that will make your firm more profitable? Here are a few suggestions:
Agility. Law firms love committees. And task forces. And blue-ribbon study groups. And consensus building. And debating. What law firms do not love is decision making. Or to change direction. Or to improvise. Yet modern law firm leaders need to think quickly, analyze the current situation, and even change course in response to a rapidly changing environment. Practice experimentation in your firm. Learn more about the tech world philosophy of “fail fast” where you decide, evaluate your results, and adjust accordingly.
Collaboration. Lawyers are often, by nature, individualists. Law school further intensifies this characteristic. Much of law school and early career is about surviving competition. When lawyers arrive at traditional firms where there are even more distinctions between groups of people, the concept is reinforced.
Except the current generation of employees doesn’t necessarily buy into this concept of competition and working as an island. Modern employees, lawyers, and clients are more responsive to collaboration. Today, information is open and accessible. The barriers that lawyers could build because they were the only ones with access to legal knowledge are being broken down. Studies show time and again that diversity makes for better results whether it is diverse perspectives, diversity of people, or diversity of experience. Working together in diverse groups will build stronger law firms.
Growth mindset. Dr. Carole Dweck is a psychology researcher who has studied and written about the benefit of a growth mindset. In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dr. Dweck says that an individual who embraces lifelong learning has an advantage over those whose viewpoints remain fixed.
Lawyers should find a natural advantage here as lawyers are required to be lifelong learners by the very nature of their chosen careers (and those pesky mandatory CLE requirements). However, most of the learning is focused on the substantive law side of education rather than learning skill sets outside of law. By slightly shifting your focus: add a few business books to your reading list, include an entrepreneurial podcast on your playlist, or attend a conference on a topic that’s new to you, you’ll be exhibiting the very characteristics that Dr. Dweck cites as imperative to next generation leaders.
Accountability. People often perform best when others are holding them accountable. My goal is to show up at the gym every morning. I’m more likely to do it when I’m meeting an accountability partner or reporting my progress to someone. How does this relate to leadership in law firms? Few firms create strategy or plans with specific action items or hold people accountable for meeting goals. We often fail to set our expectations for our firm members. My experience with employee evaluations is that time and time again, we talk with employees about their same failures, yet we don’t provide the resources to improve the situation, allocate time necessary to make improvement or have conversations throughout the year about why the improvement is important in helping the law firm reach its goals.
Modern law firm leaders realize that by establishing strategy and goals, firm members know where they are headed. By establishing a clear roadmap of the strategy and tasks needed to reach the goal, providing the necessary tools, and establishing ownership of projects by team members, and checking in regularly to see how people are doing, you’ll find individuals moving forward to meet strategic goals.
Next generation leaders need to master new skill sets. Are you improving your own leadership skills? Mentoring and developing skills of others in your office? The future of your firm depends on it.
Camille Stell is the President of Lawyers Mutual Consulting & Services. Continue this conversation by contacting Camille at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800.662.8843.