Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

How Law Firms Can Create Great Leaders

handshakeLaw firms generally do a poor job of cultivating leadership within their ranks.

They peg compensation schedules to rainmaking, client development and hours billed. They promote according to years of experience. They are slow to adapt to tectonic shifts in cultural norms.

Many talk a good game about the importance of public service, mentoring and diversity, but few take actual steps toward these values.

“More than ever before, law firms of all sizes need strong, guiding hands to steer through rolling waves of change,” writes attorney and leadership coach Lauren Stiller Rikleen in ABA GP Solo Magazine. “Yet too many law firms continue down the same path they have long traveled, relying on various systems that reward large producers and insufficiently value those who contribute to functions that allow those producers—and others—to flourish.”

Too little emphasis, Rikleen says, is placed on qualities like empathy, innovation and communication. Too much is given to star power and client stewardship.

The Inside vs. Outside Game

Lawyers often see themselves as natural born leaders, Rikleen believes. And outside the office walls – in the community at large – they often are.

“They lead client teams, helping to solve complex business and personal problems for others. They are sought out by community organizations to serve on boards, to speak, and to chair important events. And they frequently participate in local, state, and national bar associations, helping to teach others through CLE involvement, serving on committees, and undertaking other key leadership functions.”

Inside the firm, not so much. Those who rise to leadership positions typically have a record of attracting and retaining clients and developing business. These individuals are not necessarily great leaders.

“[I]n most law firms today, the busiest and most productive lawyers are rewarded with titles that add further status,” she writes. “The practical reality is that many law firm practitioners imbued with the title of leader are also expected to carry out managerial functions. Once management skills are called upon in the realm of law firm governance, however, the terms share blurred lines. Those in charge of various firm functions—chairs of practice groups, members of key committees, and heads of local offices—often have the word ‘leader’ in their title. They are Practice Group Leaders, Office Leaders, and Committee Chairs. At some law firms, lawyers occupying these roles may have a management structure reporting to them that can carry out administrative functions, but in many firms there are too few resources dedicated to the full panoply of leadership and management functions required to nurture and develop tomorrow’s leaders, rainmakers, and sophisticated practitioners.”

Effective law firm leaders, Rikleen says, focus on emerging issues, such as:

  • Using technology to improve the delivery of legal services;
  • Mentoring new lawyers;
  • Nurturing young talent and tapping into the skills of Millenials;
  • Promoting diversity and inclusion inside the firm;
  • Exploring flexible work arrangements;
  • Assigning work equitably;
  • Creating a positive work environment;
  • Rewarding pro bono and public service.

You can read Rikleen’s piece here.

22 Qualities of Leadership

Here are 22 leadership qualities, according to Entrepreneur:

  1. Focus
  2. Confidence
  3. Transparency
  4. Integrity
  5. Inspiration
  6. Passion
  7. Innovation
  8. Patience
  9. Stoicism
  10. Wonkiness
  11. Authenticity
  12. Open-mindedness
  13. Decisiveness
  14. Personableness
  15. Empowerment
  16. Positivity
  17. Generosity
  18. Persistence
  19. Insightfulness
  20. Communication
  21. Accountability
  22. Restlessness

What qualities would you add to the list? Send us your comments.


  • ABA GP Solo Magazine
  • Entrepreneur
  • ABA GP Solo / Rikleen article


About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

Read More by Jay >

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