The responsibility of leadership takes a lifetime of learning

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Author: Sharon Berman | June 2, 2015

Legal Marketing Association seminar: Preparing for partner

You have reached the top rungs of your profession – you are a partner in your law firm.  Now the real work begins. In addition to practicing law, you are also in charge of keeping the lawyers who work for you satisfied and productive themselves. It doesn’t happen by itself.

If you accepted the leadership position without fully understanding the implications, you are not alone, hence the need for a session on “Developing an Ownership Mindset: Techniques for Engaging Partners to Drive a Business Development Culture,” presented at the 2015 Legal Marketing Association annual conference. Panelists were David Freeman of Freeman Consulting; Tom Turner, Managing Partner of Procopio; and Kurt Kicklighter, Managing Partner of McKenna Long & Aldridge.

They described the need to treat management as an ongoing, ever-changing assignment that one learns when thrown into the role. Not much can prepare you until you assume the responsibilities, although the panelists did urge firms to create a checklist for new partners, akin to a mission statement, that explains the duties and goals.

A lawyer’s relationship with the manager is a key factor for performance, Freeman said. Because of that, the partner/manager must be attuned to everyone’s needs. Happiness among the associates, Freeman said, translates to profitability.

Constant communication of ownership’s beliefs and goals should happen often and with consistency. No one should be unaware of the firm’s desired direction or the strategy devised to get there. This should be a topic of discussion every time partners meet as a group.

Making sure that partners stay on schedule for taking associates to lunch, for example, and that they spread the word about important topics – how we got that important client; what we are doing to increase client loyalty – should be disseminated throughout the firm. Internal PR of this type, which could include regular get-togethers, an annual retreat, and an office newsletter, are essential to promoting small successes and repeating them.

Practice group leaders were singled out for special attention. Many of them don’t really know what their job is. They were given the title and the responsibility, but not the information to know what they are accountable for. Owners must be thoughtful about who they promote and why, and then give their new managers the tools to succeed.

Interestingly, in this panel and others, there was no consensus on the best way to offer training and coaching. At some firms, it is entirely dependent on the individual lawyers. Those who want to attend seminars are sent to learn the latest trends. Those who aren’t interested don’t go. The same might be true for the most successful associates. If they are doing everything right, and they don’t need additional coaching or teaching, maybe it doesn’t make sense to send them to the next conference.

So if you really want to be a leader, try to prepare yourself for the job and understand that along with the rewards, the pressure to continuously learn and improve will never abate.

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