|Taking The Lead|
Law firms are starting to get serious about leadership development. They are beginning to realize that a turbulent and uncertain marketplace requires leaders who are equipped to handle its challenges. Firms can no longer expect to have profitable practices, interesting work and loyalty in the lawyer ranks without strong, capable leaders.
This realization has been late in coming because law firms do not view leadership the way other businesses do. Corporations have leaders and professional managers who are separate from the company’s owners and are primarily concerned with the company’s best long-term interests. In contrast, law firms’ owners, leaders, managers – and producers – are the same individuals. As a result, they frequently face tensions between the firm’s long-term institutional interests and the short-term interests of powerful individual lawyers. Until law firms go to a different, more corporate model of management, those lawyers who control client business will continue to control the firm while lawyers with other leadership abilities and talents will play lesser roles.
This situation must change. Law firms are becoming larger, more complex organizations. They exist in a business environment that is far more complicated and tumultuous than ever before. To succeed – perhaps to survive – they need a new approach to leadership. A few firms are hiring professional managers, but most still depend on partners to provide leadership. In addition to filling established positions such as managing partners, practice groups heads, and governing committees, firms expect partners to oversee mergers, open new offices, manage client relationships, promote business development, lead diversity efforts, and direct the hiring and professional development of lawyers. These activities require specialized knowledge and sophisticated skills that many highly successful partners and rainmakers do not have.
Lack of Leadership Incentives and Selection Systems
At the same time that they are waking up to the importance of leadership, many firms are finding they have too small a pool of potential leaders for their needs. This pending leadership deficit is due to many factors, including resistance to leadership, lack of incentives, and demographic changes.
Law firms are handicapped by lawyers’ disdain for leadership. Lawyers dislike being led and are often suspicious of those who want to be leaders. Very few firms pay premiums for lawyers who serve in leadership or management. Law firms place disproportionately high value on lawyers who are excellent legal practitioners and generate high legal fees. Consequently, most partners who serve as leaders do it part-time, continuing to practice law in order to maintain credibility and income. In fact, a 2007 Altman Weil survey found that partners with significant management responsibilities billed only 10% fewer hours than their non-manager peers.
A demographic shift is also contributing to a potential dearth of law firm leaders. Nearly 70% of law firm partners are Baby Boomers, many of whom will start retiring in the next few years. Many of the next generation of partners, GenXers in their thirties and early forties, do not aspire to law firm leadership. Some lack the confidence or skills to be leaders; others view leadership as too much extra work and prefer to concentrate on their law practice. Studies have found that many GenX men and women will forego advancement if it requires too many additional responsibilities. These professionals may remain excellent and productive partners, but they are unwilling to accept the trade-offs in time, energy and stress that come with leadership.
Firms could counteract these negative factors if they had systems for selecting and preparing lawyers for leadership roles. However, fewer than 25% of law firms have succession planning processes in place. Without a systematic, well-thought-out method, firms limit their ability to find the leaders they need. Rather than considering the skills and behaviors that leaders will need to guide the firm into an uncertain future, they assume that the same qualities that have made partners successful lawyers will also make them effective leaders. While some firms are fortunate in selecting leaders this way, others will make terrible choices.
Law firms cannot risk bad choices. The impending retirements of Baby Boomers will create many vacancies, affording ample opportunities to bring fresh faces into firm governance, client relationships, and business development. To do this, firms need systems for identifying and training leaders. They have to motivate people to become leaders, open paths to leadership, and prepare lawyers for leadership roles.
Leadership Development Initiatives
One way that law firms identify and train emerging law firm leaders is through leadership development initiatives. While some firms limit participation in these initiatives to a few designated partners, other firms are casting a wide net, enrolling many or even all partners in the program. Still other firms include associates and key administrators.
In general, these initiatives begin by defining the competencies of leadership required by the firm. Decisions about which competencies are most desirable should be made within the context of the firm’s core values and its current culture and business goals. But those involved in the decision making must resist the temptation to create clones. They should not assume that their own characteristics and abilities are the most advantageous ones for future leaders. Leaders-in-training will take the helm at some later time and will be responsible for carrying out the firm’s long-term plans. It is therefore important to anticipate the diverse competencies that will be necessary to sustain the firm’s well-being and to meet the challenges that the firm may encounter down the road.
Once potential leaders are identified, leadership development initiatives incorporate several program components, including:
External Resources for Leadership Development Initiatives
Law firms may opt to create and conduct leadership development initiatives entirely in-house, but there are also many outside resources available for some or all of these components. External resources include:
Because leadership development takes time and practice, two factors are essential to the success of any initiative:
When these factors are present, emerging leaders can perform and master leadership competencies. Without these factors, even the best classroom preparation and encouragement from coaches will not create outstanding leaders.
Another critical aspect of leadership development is the transfer of client relationships to the next generation of partners. This process is vital to both the firm and its aspiring leaders. If retiring partners do not methodically transfer clients to others in the firm, those clients may be lost to competitors. If young partners are not groomed to take over responsibility for firm clients, they will be less comfortable and competent to do so.
Preparing emerging leaders to take charge of client relationships is integral to leadership development. The client transfer process must be carefully planned well in advance of a partners’ retirement, as it may take some time for the client to develop trust and confidence in the new lawyer. It may also take time for the junior lawyer to transition into the client leadership role. The retiring partner can serve as a valuable mentor and facilitator during the transition period.
Retiring partners may also have business development contacts and opportunities that they can hand over to younger lawyers. These include relationships with business referral sources; introductions or nominations for membership into professional and community organizations; contacts with journalists and editors; and links to professional or industry conference organizers.
Bringing Women into Leadership
There are shockingly few women in law firm leadership. In the 50 firms cited by Working Mother Magazine in 2007 as being the best law firms for women, women were only 16% of equity partners, 16% of managing partners, 2% of firm chairs, and less than 1% of top rainmakers. The 2007 National Association of Women Lawyers’ Survey of the Status of Women in Law Firms (with a sample of 200 large firms) found that fewer than 10% of managing partners are women, only 15% of firm governing committee members are women, and 15% of law firms have no women at all on their highest governing committee. Another recent study by Hildebrandt found that while women and men enter private practice with similar career ambitions, men’s desire to become partner increases with experience while women’s interest in partnership decreases.
Women who wish to be law firm leaders face a double-bind. Numerous studies have shown that the traits associated with leadership are stereotypically male, which creates several dilemmas for women. Women leaders face higher standards and receive fewer rewards than men. Their behavior is judged as either "feminine," which makes them too soft and therefore less competent, or "unfeminine," which makes them unlikable and less effective. As a result, many women lawyers with extraordinary leadership potential are overlooked for leadership roles because they are not perceived or appreciated as leaders and their contributions tend to be less visible and less valued. Stereotypes also cause retiring partners, who are predominantly men, to transfer their mostly male clients to other men. They assume that male clients will relate better to other men. Consequently, there are few role models and opportunities that give women hope for leadership success in law firms. When women become disheartened and leave (or even worse, if they become bitter and stay), the law firm loses an enormous amount of leadership talent.
A leadership development system can remove some of the obstacles that thwart women’s ambitions. It requires a firm to define the attributes and competencies of leadership thoughtfully and objectively. It also requires the firm to consider and assess all firm lawyers to determine which ones demonstrate the propensity, motivation and aptitude for leadership. In the process of examining the facts and regarding lawyers as individuals, they can move beyond the assumptions or stereotypes that keep women out of consideration for important leadership roles. At a time when law firms need to find more than a few strong and diverse leaders, this process will also greatly enlarge the pool of talented prospects.
|The Importance of Informal Mentoring|
There is good news and bad news on the mentoring front. The good news is that mentoring programs have become part of the law firm landscape. Most firms realize the value and importance of mentoring for lawyer development, retention and advancement. They have implemented formal mentoring programs, both conventional and innovative, and through careful planning and ongoing support, firms are achieving greater success with these programs than they have in the past.
The bad news is that the emphasis on formal mentoring programs is diverting attention from the informal mentoring that happens as lawyers work together. Formal mentoring relationships are generally restricted in scope, time and purpose. For some participants, they can become deeply meaningful and provide significant value, but they may not meet the needs of others. By relying on formally assigned mentoring relationships, busy lawyers - associates and partners - often overlook the mentoring and learning opportunities that surround them every day.
Although formal mentoring relationships have the potential to achieve significant development and career goals, they are not always fully realized. Mentor and mentee may meet and carry out the directives of a program, but the efficacy of the relationship varies from pair to pair. After all, mentoring relationships require a foundation of personal commitment and trust by both individuals. They can be encouraged but they cannot be imposed.
Formal mentoring programs serve a critically important purpose and should not be discouraged or discontinued. But in the long run, it is most important for a firm to create an environment where informal mentoring occurs naturally. In a mentoring culture, mentoring behaviors – listening, advising, trusting, supporting – are seen as the norm, not an exceptional event. This requires active commitment from firm leaders, who must model mentoring behaviors. They must promote and be personally involved in the development of associates and other partners.
Another step is to teach and require all supervisors to be mindful and diligent about informal mentoring. Supervisors are the most common source of informal mentors. As they work together, associates and supervising partners (or senior associates) get to know each other, build trust and develop bonds that frequently lead to mentoring relationships. Typically, supervisors take an interest in associates who are talented, work hard, and want to become good lawyers. When a supervisor demonstrates an interest in such an associate and is willing to help the associate develop, the associate strives to perform well for the supervisor. Their mutual interest becomes self-reinforcing and their relationship progresses into mentoring.
Similarly, associates should be taught and encouraged to seek their own informal mentors. Associates frequently fail to recognize opportunities for mentoring that are presented to them. The firm should explain what kinds of behaviors attract mentors, what informal mentoring looks like, and how to recognize and seize mentoring opportunities.Creating a culture where mentoring occurs naturally as a matter of course is not an easy undertaking. But these steps will at least get a firm moving in the right direction.
|Interesting Mentoring Programs|
Arnold & Porter’s New Parent Mentor Program. Since having a new baby presents new challenges to lawyers who are trying to balance responsibilities at home and at work, Arnold & Porter pairs new and expecting lawyer-parents with other lawyers who have kids. These "new parent mentors" help new moms and dads navigate through unfamiliar challenges and opportunities, and give them some support as they adjust to their new circumstances. Lawyers may request a parent mentor at any time, while in the process of expecting/adopting, on parenting leave, returning from leave, or even later.Fresh Lifelines for Youth, Inc. is a Santa Clara County, California-based organization whose mission is to "[r]educe juvenile crime and incarceration through legal education, mentoring, and leadership training." Started by a graduate of Stanford Law School, the FLY program helps marginalized and underserved youth "gain the life skills and character needed to avoid the criminal justice system and transform from delinquent youth into positive community leaders." Its programs involve volunteers, including lawyers and students from local law schools, who serve as teachers, mentors and role models. For example, a Mentoring Program pairs up drug and/or alcohol addicted youth, referred by the County's Juvenile Drug Treatment Court, with volunteer mentors. Teens who complete the Mentoring Program, demonstrate an aptitude for leadership, and are committed to living a healthy positive lifestyle, are then eligible to enter a year-long Leadership Training Program. By combining educational programs and further mentoring, the Leadership Training Program prepares these teens to become socially responsible citizens who help to improve their communities.
The results of all the FLY Program’s intensive mentoring efforts are impressive. In the Mentoring Program, 100% of youth report that because of the program they now have a positive adult role model in their lives and 89% report that because of the mentor program they have reduced their drug and alcohol use. Significantly, 90% of the volunteer mentors complete their year long commitment and 70% choose to continue working with their mentees for a second year.The Leadership Training Program also has impressive outcomes:
The FLY program proves the powerful impact of mentoring. For further information, see www.flyprogram.org.
|Upcoming Programs and Presentations|
DRI, Sharing Success: A Seminar for Women Lawyers, Phoenix
2008 NALP Annual Education Conference, Toronto