The Evolution of Leadership in Law

Impact on lawyers and law firms

The Evolution of Leadership in Law

As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations are recognizing the importance of workplace culture and placing a larger emphasis on employee wellbeing and connection. For a law firm, this ultimately requires a shift from the conventional focus on billables to a more people-oriented approach.

Although there may be an impact on the bottom line at the beginning, making the investment to nurture your people will allow you to reap the benefits in the long run. Happy, fulfilled, and engaged employees are more likely to go above and beyond — they are more productive, better team players, and committed to the success of the business. Not to mention, the energy and optimism of a single individual can lead to a ripple effect throughout the organization.

For this to be sustainable, a firm needs to harness and foster these positive effects. Established parameters are required to maintain a consistent environment and experience for everyone who works at the firm — the parameters being the firm’s mission, vision, and values. The essence of how the firm operates and interacts with its people and clients within those parameters is the firm’s “culture.”

A firm with a strong culture is one where the firm’s actions and interactions are aligned with its mission, vision, and values. A strong firm culture allows people to be clear on what to expect and how they should act. It allows people to derive meaning from their work and feel like they are contributing to the firm’s goals. All of this helps build loyalty.

So, what does this mean for lawyers and the legal profession going forward?

Despite the path paved by start-ups and tech companies, most law firms have been reluctant to “do things differently.” At least they have been for a long time. As new generations of workers enter the legal industry, associate lawyers and support staff are starting to prioritize meaningful work, flexibility, and opportunities for growth over compensation. With the power dynamic shifting as a result of the current job market, firms will need to adjust instead of pushing back against social change.

What many law firms are realizing is that people management is no longer just an HR problem, it is also a leadership problem. Real buy-in only follows when the leaders of the firm walk the talk. The strength of a firm’s culture is underwritten by the words and actions of those in leadership positions. The leaders of the firm set the tone for everyone else. They have the responsibility of embodying the firm’s standards and expectations, the opportunity to reinforce good behaviour and not tolerate bad ones, and the privilege to inspire and motivate their team.

While not by choice, the natural workflow in most firms requires lawyers to step into a manager role, making them leaders by default. For a firm to uphold a defined culture, there needs to be cohesiveness on all levels. The lawyers of a firm need to learn what it means to act in alignment with the firm’s parameters and there needs to be follow through.

With talent retention becoming more of a concern, a lawyer’s ability to practice compassion, empathy, and collaboration as a leader will be just as valuable to an employer as competence, knowledge, and expertise. Not to mention, as the popularity of hybrid and remote work continues to rise, adaptability and clear communication skills will be vital for lawyers to succeed, both in the workplace and with clients.

As the practice of law evolves, firms that want to maintain business success by cultivating a strong workplace culture may want to re-evaluate their recruitment and training strategies. Skills that were once considered “soft” and non-essential for lawyers may prove to be real assets.