Leadership in Law: The Basics

By Cheryl J. Leone, Law Firm Coach

To understand types of leadership we have to understand positions in the law firm. Staff are usually focused on task and skills. Management is about managing resources and managers treat staff as a resource (skills). Leadership is about influencing people and they treat staff as assets. The focus of a manager is the mission of the firm. The focus of a leader is the vision.

Advancement is generally from staff to manager to leader. The statement that “you cannot advance beyond your level of leadership” has to do with that progression. The general rule of thumb is that if you know the job you will be a worker; if you know why you are doing the job you will be a manager and if you know where you are going you will be a leader. That is a generality but it does define the roles some.

What about a practical example. We are asked all the time: Shouldn’t the focus be on getting the job done? Yes! Results are what we are after, but the effectiveness of leadership is much better than that of management.

Law firms, as does all business, tend to use management skills for short-term solutions; i.e., we need to get the interrogatories done so we can get to mediation. Leadership skills are needed to grow or stabilize; i.e., we need to become more efficient so revenue is turned faster and we can expand our firm.

Almost by the definition of the roles, managers are controllers and leaders are empowers. Remember, managers control resources. I say ‘almost’ because many new potential leaders start out as controllers and are reluctant to move on to style of empowerment.

When you are a leader and a controller you will only delegate a limited amount of authority to the project. If you empower as a leader you will provide a significant amount of authority to someone else. If you are a high performance firm member and a part of a high performance firm you will always require empowerment.

As the law firm grows in size the need to delegate increases due to the complexity of the organization. Owners, lawyers, administrators and managers should concentrate on the activities they do that bring the most value to the firm. All other activities should be delegated. The amount of authority you choose to include with that delegation will determine if you are using the controlling or the empowering style.

The deciding element of delegation is your capacity to maintain all the variables. At some point the amount of complexity will dictate that you move to the empowerment style. The problem is, many law firm owners, lawyers and paralegals do not want to give up control. It may be a fear factor (I can be replaced) or it simply may be trust (I don’t trust anyone but me to do this). They have limited their growth potential.

Delegation and empowerment brings with it the potential for growth by giving staff opportunities. People also like to be part of the solution. Beyond that delegation builds trust.

If you do not learn how to delegate both task and authority you will be limited to the amount of work that you alone can produce. You may think that this is not true if you delegate work. The problem is if you do not also delegate some authority along with the responsibility you spend time checking on the work. This takes time away from your assigned work. You ultimately become stalled and ineffective.

There are several ways to mitigate the risk with full empowerment. The best approach we have seen is a well-documented system with checks and balances. If the processes, procedures and policies are well documented everyone has the opportunity to know what is expected. If there are good business metrics in place, any potential problem can be identified well before it becomes a concern.

We look back over the history of the legal profession and as more and more law firm owners focus on the art of the business of a law firm, you see leadership becomes a critical skill required of all its members. An empowered firm member is a powerful leader who will always grow other leaders and will always be recognized as critical to the firm success.

About the Authors

Principals Dave Favor and Cheryl Leone are the founders of Catalyst Group, Inc. with its corporate offices in Raleigh, North Carolina. Rounding out the Coaches is Attorney Carl Solomon of Columbia, South Carolina. They share a common value and belief system that everyone deserves a chance to work for themselves and do it in such a way that it is profitable, enjoyable and respected by others. For more information email our Head Coach.

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