Contrary to the beliefs of some people, law firms are not immune to common hardships faced by traditional businesses--staff reductions, lost deals, remote working and internal reorganizing are just a few examples.
Like any other business, it's crucial to identify and assess who is making important decisions in your firm and recognize who in your firm will fulfill your equivalent of such roles as a COO or CEO would.
When deciding which various individuals will take on these law firm management and leadership roles, there are several characteristics that should be present among all candidates:
1. Decisiveness and Conviction
This may be particularly challenging for lawyers, who have a knack for finding flaws in every decision. But in the world of business, one must be able to see alternatives, evaluate pros and cons and make a decision quickly. Likewise, once a decision has been made, effective leaders must stay the course when difficulties are encountered, instead of scrambling for new ideas.
Managers and leaders within a law firm must be able to show grit and determination--an ability to get things done no matter the size and scope of the project. Law firms are not easy environments and exhibiting a level of persistence will go a long way in moving your firm forward.
Communication skills are paramount for leaders in any circumstance. Not only does one need to be highly responsive to ongoing needs throughout the firm, but also proficient in communicating at all levels, whether that means succinctly conveying information to attorneys who don't have much time or skillfully digesting information to be shared with clients or the firm at-large.
A clear understanding, firm-wide, of issues and opportunities relevant to strategy and operations is essential. Accomplished leaders possess the skills attendant to this understanding.
It is no news that the market is quickly changing. More competition, new work models and a global economy mean that what worked yesterday may not even keep you in tomorrow’s conversation.
If a leader is uncomfortable with change and ambiguity and unable to bounce back from obstacles or external factors, then there may be a lack of emotional agility coupled with an inability to remain adaptable. A strong leader can champion changes with a solutions-oriented approach while exhibiting personal resiliency, in addition to achieving organizational resiliency.
4. Compassion and Humility
For effective law firm leaders, it is necessary to possess high emotional intelligence (EQ) which can be cultivated over time. Although EQ has been proven to achieve positive results in the workplace it can be hard to identify these intangible traits during an interview.
A person demonstrating high EQ will be able to balance both strategic and realistic goals and priorities (or have the capacity to “see the forest through the trees”). This includes putting clarity around a vision and providing a structure and plans to implement it. It requires leading with compassion by exhibiting social awareness and understanding the emotions of others.
Furthermore, it embodies the ability to build consensus through active listening and letting go of one’s ego to achieve this. With that, a law firm leader should possess the awareness and ability to manage one’s self while simultaneously managing up. The skill to effectively lead oneself, and the self-awareness that comes with it, is vital before leading others.
5. Diverse Background and Experience
Law firm leaders must have some understanding of a wide range of areas from human resources, finance, executive leadership, people management and operations. While a law firm leader can be homegrown working in legal for the majority of their career, it can prove beneficial to have had experience in other industries to develop a better all-around understanding of leadership and management.
A diverse breadth of experience can shed light on alternatives for problem-solving and increase general awareness for operating effectively or like a business. Law firms should not shy away from potential leaders due to a diverse background, as they can often adapt to a law firm environment and bring on skills that are beneficial.
Identifying your next law firm leader is more imperative than ever as we are all experiencing a new way of working. Identifying the right person for a law firm leadership role will influence how you emerge amidst this or any crisis.