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    February 8th, 2008

    So let your light so shine before men
    Let your light so shine

    Music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.

    We live in a dark, conflicted and confusing time. On one hand, we have never been so much in need of real leadership. We have international, national and regional corporations, non-profits and other organizations of all sizes looking for leaders. People are bemoaning the lack of enlightened and selfless leadership in politics and government. On the other hand, there has never been a time where so few real people are seemingly coming forward to serve as leaders to light the way. Wirthlin Worldwide (now Harris Interactive) reported in one of their studies that about 60% of current corporate CEO’s did not want to take their present job.

    A 2003 Greenfield/Belser survey found that one clearly distinguishing characteristic between extraordinarily successful firms and failed firms was their willingness to be innovative. Successful firms were much more open (in a statistically meaningful way) to implement innovation into their firm. As we all know, willingness to innovate is clearly tied to the leadership in the firm. If the leadership of the firm understands the relationship between strategic goals, innovation and success, if it works at consensus building around those strategic goals and provides meaningful metrics, feedback and mentoring around attaining those strategic goals and encourages all firm members to embrace change, then the firm has taken many of the steps necessary to transform itself into a extraordinarily successful firm.

    I have spoken many times of the paradoxes involved in the management of a law firm. Here is another. On numerous occasions I have heard senior partners express the need for training and mentoring for their younger members to bring them up to speed and turn them into successful lawyers and future partners. However, there is an equal need to take senior partners – who are successful in practising law – to train and mentor them to bring them up to speed and turn them into successful business leaders. These partners, in turn, having acquired the vision and the necessary leadership skills, can take the firm and start to transform it from an aggregation of successful lawyers into a cohesive legal team with a shared culture and shared goals that is actively seeking the next level of performance. That skill set is markedly different from the skill set necessary to manage and run your own practice and book of business. In many cases firms have realized that it is more productive for all concerned to bring in professional managers to take over the management of the firm and relieve the partners of this day to day chore. However, this does in no way abrogate the duty resting on senior partners to be active leaders of their firm. As we all know, managers do things right – leaders do the right thing. It is the continued setting and attainment of strategic business objectives that will keep the firm moving in the right direction and continuing to embrace change.

    How do you start on the road to change your senior lawyers into leaders? First, no longer be complacent about your current performance. Notwithstanding that your partners may be successful and happy about their current level of income and operating status of the firm, you have to remind them that in spite of the fact that they don’t wish to change, the world (especially their clients) are constantly in a state of change around them. Competitors are constantly working on their own aggressive business plans and are aiming to capture your clients. For example, if you have a dependency on only a few major accounts, then your firm is vulnerable to a major economic upset if one of those major accounts should leave. Your long-term existence as a firm is dependent on your continued development of leadership – just reflect for a minute and you can recall the names of law firms that no longer exist today. There is no law yet written that states that your firm must be in business tomorrow.

    Secondly, expose your major partners to new ideas and developments in the business arena that are outside of the law. Lawyers tend to narrow their practice focus – for obvious reasons – but this constant narrowing and development of their legal skills removes them from exposure to bigger ideas and new developments in other fields. Send your people to ‘thought conferences’ – gatherings that are not CLE-oriented but rather are aimed at developing business, strategy or inter-personal skills – that will immerse them in a nutrient-rich environment of ideas. Have them serve in leadership positions in other community-service organizations – where they will come into contact with leaders in other fields – and bring that wealth of experience back to the firm. Have the firm take on an important pro-bono file that serves to benefit both society as well as the partners by connecting to their inner ‘higher calling’ and sense of purpose and serves as a leadership example to other members of the firm.

    Thirdly, have your senior partners demonstrate the most important leadership quality of all – to become a living example of the qualities that they wish to see reflected in their associates and junior partners. If we are to develop lawyers into future leaders, we need to foster and encourage those who can clearly demonstrate that they can indeed, walk the talk. This is not a modern management principle. One of the earliest statements of this idea is as follows:

    “The soul is dyed the color of its thoughts. Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day. The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you choose, what you think, and what you do is who you become. Your integrity is your destiny … it is the light that guides your way.” Heraclitus (?535BC-475BC) Greek Philosopher

    Our own collective future is premised in part on senior partners developing their inner leadership skills in order that they can ignite their own light for it to shine before others.

    (this post is based on a column originally published in PracticeTalk in the Canadian Bar Association – BC Branch’s newsletter BarTalk)

    This entry was posted on Friday, February 8th, 2008 at 6:53 pm and is filed under Change Management, Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Trends. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

    3 Responses to “Leading the Way…”
    1. Connie Crosby Says:

      Very thought-provoking, David. The nature of law firms has changed dramatically in the last 10-15 years, and no doubt many have not realized this has happened. It is no longer enough to serve one’s clients; partners have to pay attention to what is happening inside the firm as well. It has got to be a tough balancing act, one which I don’t envy. You have some great ideas on how to develop leaders inside the firm.

      Cheers,
      Connie

    2. David Bilinsky - Thoughtful Legal Management Says:

      [...] Crosby who is kind enough to introduce him to David Bilinsky. David tells Charlie all about how there is a great need for law firms to turn their senior partners into business leaders. David Maister overhears them and chimes in that one-firm firms are often quite [...]

    3. Blawg Review #147 | Rush on Business Says:

      [...] kind enough to introduce him to David Bilinsky.  David tells Charlie all about how there is a great need for law firms to turn their senior partners into business leaders.  David Maister overhears them and chimes in that one-firm firms are often quite [...]

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