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5 More Reasons Leadership Matters for 'Lawyers Who Aren't In Charge'

I wrote recently about 5 ways leadership matters, even for lawyers who aren't 'in charge.' It's definitely worth the read, but if you need some incentive, these are the issues and challenges I addressed there: time management, decision-making, communication and influence, well-being, and professional identity. Those are all important reasons to care about 'leadership for non-leaders,' but they're not the only ones. Here are 5 more reasons to give time and attention to developing your leadership skills and how they can enhance your legal practice.

1. Managing Conflict: It doesn't take any imagination at all to recall a situation of conflict within a team or when dealing with clients or opposing counsel. Lawyers at all levels will face these situations regularly, and the fact that they aren't 'in charge' or aren't the final decision maker does not absolve them of the need to navigate those situations well and efficiently. Learning how to relate empathetically with others can mitigate the frequency and intensity of conflict and, more importantly, create opportunities for meaningful engagement in the face of such conflict. Managing our thoughts and reactions, and applying effective tactical communication skills, will revolutionize a non-leader's ability to manage conflict.


2. Team Building: Practice group leaders and other senior partners often carry the burden of driving team building within their firms. The reality, though, is that more junior lawyers on those teams are often left wanting for a sense of team. Those junior lawyers should not be sitting on their hands waiting for others to deliver everything they need to find engagement in their work. A sense of team or community is something that non-leaders can seize for their own. This is a goal that really leans on leadership skills of influence and motivation. Relationship-building is a leadership competency and clearly one that 'non-leaders' can benefit from.


3. Navigating Change: The legal profession undergoes constant change whether due to technological advancements, evolving client expectations, or market dynamics. The current churn around generative AI is a great example, that weaves all three of these examples together. Adaptability and the ability to innovate requires everyone involved to have a firm grasp on their values, firm goals, and client interests. There is a big element of self- and organizational-awareness involved in doing this well, and coordinating flexibility and innovation across teams, practice areas, or offices relies on understanding and communicating about those value, goals, and interests.


4. Managing Client Relationships: The lead partner serving a client is not the only touchpoint the client will have with your firm. Everyone involved needs to cultivate strong client relationships, understand client needs, and deliver exceptional client service. Addressing the challenges in managing client expectations, handling difficult clients, and ensuring client satisfaction while balancing multiple responsibilities requires lawyers at every level to have strong leadership skills, and senior (responsible) partners leading those client service teams will benefit from helping junior attorneys to develop those skills.


5. Succession Planning: For 'non-leaders,' succession planning is often something discussed behind closed doors and without any visibility to them. Those same junior lawyers could, however, take a more proactive approach to being part of succession planning within their firm. By changing their perspective on what their role is--changing from a passive chess piece to an active individual planner--enhances their value to the firm. And senior leaders who encourage junior lawyer to envision and plan for a future in the firm can enhance engagement, loyalty, and retention. Strategic thinking is a leadership competency that can and should be developed.


Each of these leadership skills and goals can be enhanced through coaching, support, and accountability. Leadership development programs and coaching can help lawyers in your legal organization enhance their skills, build resilience, navigate challenges, and succeed in new leadership roles (or prepare for taking on those roles in the future) while driving positive outcomes for themselves, their teams, and your organization. Set up a Legal Leadership Strategy Session and let's talk about how to develop leadership skills for you or your firm.

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