The Complete Guide to Being a Leader at Your Law Firm
9–11 minutes to read
Groundbreaking gene technologist Alan Keith once said, “Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen.”
Your role as a leader, then, is to enable your team to do the work that they do best.
If your law firm were an orchestra, your role is to be the conductor, not to be running between percussion, strings, and brass trying to play multiple parts.
But how exactly do you step out of the pit and onto the podium to let your key players perform their best?
This article will give you a guide to being a leader at your law firm.
We’ll cover the six top elements of a great leader:
Let’s get started!
Share your vision for your firm
As the leader of your firm, you have a vision for where you’d like to take the business. Perhaps you’d like to attract new partners, open a second office, or become a top-rated firm in your area.
Whatever your vision may be, you need to share it with the rest of your team. Document your vision and speak to it regularly.
If you can’t articulate your vision for your firm, how do you expect your team to help you realize it?
Publishing your vision and sharing it share with your team helps give everyone a sense of working toward the same objectives. Your vision should include a lofty, yet measurable, goal to work toward. Whether it’s to become a highly-recognized firm, take on a certain number of high-profile cases, do more pro-bono work, or earn a certain amount of revenue, you need a sense of what you’re propelling your firm toward.
You should regularly communicate with your team about your vision and the ways the entire team is working toward it.
Holding regular “town hall” style meetings once a month (or even once a quarter), can give you the chance to update your law firm’s team on goal-focused measurables, overall performance, and keep your pulse on your team’s current culture. Make these meetings fun and engaging with lunch and opportunities for conversation.
Town halls are also a great opportunity to give your firm’s staff, partners and paralegals the chance to question you. Your vision shouldn’t be something set in stone, and questions from your team may inspire you to shift or redefine your vision, as well as keep them engaged in pursuing it.
If you’re not getting verbal feedback in a town hall setting, you can also offer a regular survey or digital suggestion box specific to your vision. Let employees rate you on how realistic they think your vision is, whether they feel like they’re able to contribute, and if the vision is relevant to their professional goals.
Enable your team to learn and develop
Training is an essential part of any job, and most employees want more of it. This is especially true in the legal industry, which is a field characterized by drawing ambitious personalities.
A recent survey found that 92% of employees say that the right kind of formal workplace training positively impacts their job engagement.
Create a training program for your law firm’s team that allows them to engage at their own pace and with topics that interest them personally. These topics should be largely focused within the team member’s specialty and what your firm needs from them, but it’s also valuable to offer the opportunity to learn about areas outside of their own specialty.
For instance, your paralegals might benefit from marketing and accounting courses, while your junior lawyers might benefit from case intake and management training.
You don’t have to send your team offsite to offer them valuable training. Tools like Crisp Academy can give you access to in-depth online training and insights, designed just for law firms. Through Crisp Academy, your firm’s employees will be able to learn skills like marketing, hiring, client intake, and more. These video-based courses are created by subject matter experts and eLearning managers, and are currently exclusive to members of Crisp Coach programs.
It’s not enough to simply make these courses available. To create a culture of learning, you need to set aside hours for each employee to use for training. Incentivize course completion with prizes and rewards, and create a sense of friendly competition across your team.
As you work on implementing a training program across your company, make sure you can track employee progress on specific courses, create individualized training programs, and assign additional courses as necessary. You should also see if specific certifications are included as part of your eLearning courses to increase your team’s expertise and increase your firm’s legitimacy.
Want to see how Crisp can help your firm? Request an invite to Crisp Coach to get access to the platform and start empowering your team with powerful online learning.
Create open lines of communication
Too often, your firm’s staff may have questions or concerns but feel that they don’t have the opportunity to voice them. They may not feel that they’re getting the feedback or praise they want from you, other partners, or the upper management at your firm.
In fact, 31% of employees wish their manager communicated more frequently with them, and an overwhelming 70% of employees say they’d like to spend more time with their manager.
In order to give your team the facetime they want, you need to set aside dedicated time for communication.
Office hours aren’t just for college professors — consider hosting open office hours weekly or bi-weekly. Make an event of it with coffee or treats, and take the time to get to know your team. Ask them questions about their family, their commute, their hobbies, and make a genuine effort to understand them.
As a leader, it’s your duty to create a culture of communication and give your law firm’s team an opportunity to make suggestions in order to take ownership of their work and feel more comfortable.
You should not only make yourself accessible, but also make sure that partners and managers who are directly in charge of specific paralegals or other staff are making similar efforts to offer direct feedback.
While you might have a big-picture view of your firm’s operations, only direct managers can offer their team specific praise and constructive feedback about their day-to-day work. Ensure that partners and managers are scheduling conversations with their staff, and offering regular praise for a job well done.
When it comes to creating an overall culture of communication, you need to offer your law firm’s team the opportunity to offer feedback to leadership, as well. If you want to foster healthy communication in your office, you need to enable people to truly take ownership of their work.
Gone are the days of a suggestion box sitting in the break room. Consider an open brainstorming session where you firm’s team can ideate, or consider offering a digital feedback solution.
Set clear standards and goals
Being able to work toward a concrete goal helps your law firm’s team understand what you want from them and how their performance is being measured. Goal-setting also helps partners and managers give specific feedback that helps their team understand their performance.
For law firms, these objectives could be about how many hours are billed to clients, a specific number of training sessions attended, or a number of meetings scheduled for prospective clients.
Goals shouldn’t be solely focused on metrics and deliverables. You should also help your team set goals for learning, personal development, and training. Individual goals might include spending five dedicated hours a month on eLearning or a number of off-site meetings in a month.
Start new team-members with goals as part of their onboarding process — 30, 60, and 90-day goals can help new staff as they get familiar with your firm, processes, and team. After that, quarterly goals can help keep your team fresh and progress-focused.
To give feedback about goal performance and increase your team’s facetime with partners and managers, you should offer regular performance reviews.
Use the aforementioned goals to objectively write performance reviews — which are critical in making sure you and your team are on the same page. 85% of American professionals would at least consider leaving a job after an unfair job review.
As you set goals and work with your team, be sure to emphasize which metrics are the most important, and which are more flexible. Too much pressure to perform can cause anxiety, especially if partners or upper management is placing pressure on more junior staff to meet specific metrics without a clear picture of what’s most important.
Offer mentorship and guidance in addition to management
As a leader at your law firm, you’re directly responsible for ensuring each member of your team is nurtured and supported. You shouldn’t focus exclusively on output and metrics, but rather on coming to a situation with a collaborative, guidance-focused mindset.
If you’re the type of leader who says “don’t come to me with problems, come to me with solutions,” you’re essentially telling your team not to come to you.
Your ability to offer guidance and work with your team is what qualifies you as a leader.
When a junior member of your firm comes to you with a question or dilemma, they’re trusting that you will be able to help them solve it. You have more experience than they do, and they’re coming to you in recognition of that. If you turn them away and expect them to solve it entirely on their own, you’re essentially setting them up for unnecessary stress and ensuring that your team doesn’t communicate with you when they have a problem that requires your input.
Being a truly hands-on leader requires you to be able to train others, answer questions, and discuss problems openly and frankly. If you’re not available to help your team, you’re not truly leading your team.
You shouldn’t have to micromanage details, but you can set them on a path to solutions that will ultimately make them more self-sufficient in the future.
Your staff might also come to you for career advice as they continue to grow and identify their own strengths, and you should be able to step back as a manager and focus on being a mentor, helping your team realize their personal and professional goals.
If you can’t answer their questions or help them in the specific area they’re looking to develop, chances are you know someone who does.
Offering mentorship programs and opportunities to engage with industry leaders, within and outside of your law firm, can help your law firm’s staff trust you more as a leader and encourage loyalty.
Mentoring can have a significant impact on the way employees view your law firm. 83% of workers participating in a mentoring program admitted that their experience positively influenced their desire to stay at their organization. These programs can typically be found through local associations, universities, and networking groups.
You may even be able to set up an informal mentorship program with one of your network connections. Taking this extra step to help your team members shows them that you’re truly invested in them and their development.
Create a culture of trust
All of these things ultimately work toward improving trust between employer and employee.
Only about 25% of employees said their organization has a strong culture based on core values, and a similar amount said they trust their leadership at the executive level.
Letting your firm’s employees feel free to express their concerns, collaborate on cases, and ask for advice lets them know that you’re a leader they can trust, without fear.
Your team should enjoy the same level of trust as your clients, and understand that if they do raise a concern, they can do so without fear of judgment or retaliation. If an employee submits anonymous feedback, it should truly be anonymous. If someone comes to you in confidence, respect that confidence.
If you offer enough forums for your team to trust you, and do so genuinely, you’re more likely to have a lasting impact on your culture than any other effort you put forth.
A law firm filled with high-performing lawyers and dedicated staff is music to any law firm leader’s ears. As the conductor for your firm, you should be approachable, clear with your direction, and easy to trust in order to keep your top performers playing the tune.
Becoming a great leader for your law firm doesn’t happen overnight, and you shouldn’t try to do it on your own. One of the most important factors for any leader? The ability to ask for help. Seek out guidance from others in similar positions, and learn from those who have come before you.