Leadership is Too Important to be Left to the Partners

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Law firms would benefit from more leadership


Law firms have a wealth of untapped talent at the senior associate (SA) level. If partners could let go a bit more, so much more could get done and margins would be improved.

For SA’s, I’m not talking about running-the-firm type leadership, but leadership at an operational level, such as:

  • running matters effectively,
  • helping to motivate team members working on matters,
  • assessing risks to the firm and mitigating such risks
  • contributing more to BD activity etc.

So here’s a 3 stage process for helping SA’s transition to being more effective leaders:

Stage 1 – Establish the Requirements and Set Leadership Goals – Management needs to agree and support such an initiative. Not easy in itself because not all partners will feel comfortable letting go.

Then each SA needs to have goals that should be stretching and geared to each individual’s capability and interests. We would also advocate using a 180 or 360 diagnostic to help the lawyers get insights into their current leadership style.

Stage 2 – Run a Development Programme – The programme would be designed to clarify what the firm expects of their SA’s and would aim to equip SA’s with the skills required. Details of our suggested content for such a programme are below.

Stage 3 – Ongoing Action Learning Sets – Training programmes on their own are limited in terms of what shifts can be achieved.

Ongoing programmes will remind SA’s of what needs to be worked on and provide support. Internal and external coaches can provide the support and crack the whip as required! Sponsoring partners can play an important role as well.

Proposed Content for SA Development Programme

From our experience at working on leadership programmes, below is an example of what we’d recommend to move your SA’s up a gear.

  1. ON BEING A TRULY COMMERCIAL LAWYER – Exploration of the commercial lawyer’s skillset –  defining what being a commercial lawyer means for clients & for the firm
  2. HOW TO RUN A PROFITABLE MATTER – Input explaining the levers of profitability, do’s and don’ts & tools for  running a profitable deal.  Providing guidelines on scope creep and pricing.
  3. BEING AN EFFECTIVE MATTER MANAGER – Understanding the requirements of the client, the firm and team members and exploring why it’s hard not to drop a ball when you get too sucked into the detail.
  4. DEVELOPING BD & CLIENT SKILLS – Framework for understanding what we have to do to develop contacts & client relationships and support partners on client relationships and profile-raising. Clients increasingly want to build a relationship with the SA’s
  5. UNDERSTANDING YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE – Using a diagnostic tool to deepen the participants’ understanding of their personal style, the different styles of others and how participants might benefit from adopting different management approaches sometimes.
  6. DEVELOPING YOUR PEOPLE – On being a leader that others want to follow. The art of delegation, supervision & coaching. The skills of giving feedback & delivering difficult messages .

We are passionate about this stuff. Give us a call if you’d like to hear more about how we can support you make such a transition.


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