Success starts with Law Firm Leadership

Law firm leadership and vision by those controlling the firm is a fundamental ingredient to success. The leaders of the firm, regardless if that’s the principal or the partners or the CEO, are responsible for setting the course in which the firm is to move, and keep things moving right along within the parameters set by this common destination.

Like all businesses a law firm needs guidance and leadership to move forward in a positive direction. Whether that direction is towards expansion, towards specialisation or simply towards an increase in profitability, it is important for there to be a clear vision of the desired destination for the firm. Once the vision has been established, it needs to be communicated to the whole team. For staff to have buy-in, they need to be included and the leaders need to explain their thinking.

In this article we pose a number of questions for you to think about.

What is your firm’s vision?

Ari Weinzweig of Inc. magazine is adamant that a business needs vision to be successful. As the owner of Zingerman’s, a highly successful American deli business with a US$37 million dollar turnover, Weinzweig defined vision as ‘a picture of what success will be at a particular time in the future’. This vision is inclusive of size, perception, self-perception and the roles that business leaders play in their own business.

Weinsweig makes the distinction between a vision and a plan. A vision being WHAT you want and a plan being HOW you get there, like a roadmap to success – the exact success that you want for your firm.

As a leader of the firm, take some time to think about what your firm’s vision should be, and what it encompasses – where do you want to go?

If you have a partnership is it healthy?

Like every relationship, a working partnership has its ups and downs and its ebbs and flows over the passing of time. A healthy firm needs a strong leading unit, and it is important to reaffirm that the partnership at the head is also healthy.

There are several ‘partnership killers’ that must be avoided according to Brad Sugars writing in For law firms this is particularly relevant. These include situations in which:

  • The partnership is based on sharing capital instead of expenses;
  • The partnership not having a written and signed partnership agreement; and
  • The expectation that a friendship can carry a partnership.

If there is more than one leader in your law firm’s leadership team, are you in a healthy relationship with each other? Are you geared for success?

It’s a sign if good staff are leaving your firm

Ilya Pozen writes for Forbes magazine that 70% of employees are disengaged with their workplaces, and those employees are much more likely to leave, contributing to a high turnover in workplaces. He correlates this disengagement with employees not being in line with the business plan, or aware of the business vision.

Staff can be a good barometer of the firm’s health. If the firm’s ‘young guns’ are leaving, it can be a sign that they don’t see a future at the firm, alternatively, it can highlight a misalignment between their values and what is perceived as the firm’s values. The problem is exacerbated if the departing staff are known to be ‘low maintenance’ employees. Imagine what it would be like as a firm leader, having bright competent young lawyers wanting to join your firm. Be the ‘going places’ firm!

Leadership of a poorly run firm always seems to find a way to justify employee departures, over and over again.

Experience the joy of a firm with a good culture

Try opening up communication with your staff, make sure your staff are aligned with their own skill sets and reward them with non-monetary perks. Pozen suggests free lunches or some work being done from home can ensure that staff are engaged and happy.

Does your firm hold regular Staff Meetings? Staff meetings provide a forum which enables you to explain leadership decisions and direction to the staff. The purpose is not to seek their approval. Allow the staff to gain a deeper understanding of what’s happening and why. In addition, you need to inform your staff of partnership decisions in order to execute your plans at an operational level.

These meetings provide a forum to broadcast messages and to highlight praiseworthy actions of employees. It’s best if these meetings have a structure with a start and finish time. They need only be half an hour or an hour in length.

Are your staff aware of your vision for the firm? Do they know their importance in making that vision happen? Do you know what they value? Your firm culture is the way in which your employees relate to you, each other, and the outside world. Are you satisfied with it? Holding simple events can improve any cultural shortcomings. Offer to have cake and coffee in the boardroom or drinks after work. Note that these events don’t need to be expensive or over the top. It’s often the gesture to hold them that’s sufficient. This enables colleagues to chat and get to know each other better and to have a laugh.

A good culture within a law firm is tangible, you can feel it. The staff can feel it too!

“Lock in” your law firm leadership

Strong law firm leadership is mandatory to illuminate your vision for the firm. The importance of a vision is that it fulfils a need to secure a common goal for you and your employees to work towards, led by a cohesive and healthy partnership of leaders.

A positive and forward moving law firm that progresses towards its goals is a healthy firm that everyone can enjoy.

About the author
Peter Heazlewood

Peter Heazlewood

Peter Heazlewood is a management and marketing consultant, he specialises in helping law firms develop their practices using business planning marketing and performance reporting techniques refined in his own successful law firm. Peter lives in Sydney with his wife and is the father of five adult children.

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