While many professional development programs were put on pause during the pandemic, some firms moved ahead with virtual academies for new partners. Professional development leaders have frequently asked,
“What should we include in our new partner training, and should we alter our curriculum post-pandemic?”.
From an organizational development point of view, it might be preferable to have new partners enroll in a week-long intensive leadership development program, or a multi-session, year-long learning experience that a partner in a Big 4 accounting firm might receive. However, most law firms deliver new partner training over a one or two day retreat or “academy”. With many law firms still working remotely, or in a hybrid fashion, these programs are often delivered via 90 minute video webinars spread over a period of weeks or months. What leadership topics float to the top, given limited time and resources?
Introduction to Leadership in Law Firms
Many lawyers struggle in the transition from associate to partner, especially in their new roles of manager and leader. Lawyers find it helpful to gain an outside perspective of the unique challenges facing lawyer-leaders, and how lawyer personalities are different than those in other organizations. In this session, we talk about issues of power, influence, decision making and navigating in a matrix organization. We also look at what is expected of leaders in law firms, especially by Millennials and GenZ professionals.
Self-Awareness and Emotional Intelligence
Assessments such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), DiSC and EQ assessments can help leaders better understand themselves and how people are wired differently. Oftentimes participants will gain insight into why they are more comfortable working with some people and not others. Leadership requires us to collaborate, communicate with and lead others, including those that think and behave differently from ourselves. During one assessment debrief, a participant declared, “Aha! For years I thought my co-worker was just an @$$****, but now I realize that he is just very different from me!”. Once leaders gain that realization, they can modify their approach to be a more effective leader.
Assessments such as MBTI and DiSC are a strong set-up for communication skills training. Most lawyers have above-average communication skills, but often struggle with stressful interactions that involve feedback and conflict. Using the language and tools of MBTI or DiSC, we can introduce communication skill concepts that can be very helpful in these situations, including active listening, non-verbal communication, and NLP.
Effective Feedback and Managing Difficult Conversations
New partners need to be able to give and receive effective feedback. They also need to navigate and manage difficult conversations in a stressful environment. Using tools such as the Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI) model for feedback and the Crucial Conversations Model, leaders begin to understand that, with practice, techniques can be used to reduce defensiveness and anxiety in these conversations, resulting in a more effective leadership interaction.
Delegation and Accountability
Sadly, many law firms are not strong with skills in this area, and new partners learned from less than stellar examples. Introducing models and tools to improve delegation and accountability skills for both one-on-one and team leadership is welcomed by new partners who often experience stress in these areas.
Followership and Managing 360
While many new partners relish their new role and title, the fact remains that everyone in an organization is both a leader and a follower, and there are ways we can improve our followership skills that will positively affect our reputation, career opportunities and team performance. New partners (and many senior associates) feel the “squeeze” of managing both up and down to get things done. Recognizing these pressures and giving new partners tools to deal with “managing from the middle” can both improve outcomes and reduce stress among new partners.
Leading Teams, Team Dynamics and Remote Teams
Many new partners find themselves running case and matter teams, firm committees and other initiatives, often without any training on how to develop, nurture and lead effective teams. Using both experiential learning and models of team development, participants gain insights and practical tips on leading teams and navigating the rough waters that often arise in leading teams of lawyers and business professionals. Many teams will continue to have participants working remotely, so providing tools and insights for leading remote teams is more important than ever.
It is easy for a law firm to evolve into a silo culture. Building connections across practice and industry groups, client service teams, offices and cultures can result in deeper client relationships, increased profitability, creative innovation and increased engagement. Collaboration in law firms does not come naturally, however. Using tools like the Smart Collaboration Accelerator and CCL’s Leading Beyond Boundaries, lawyer-leaders can better understand how to intentionally build bridges across invisible boundaries for better business outcomes.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
As one transitions from an associate to partner role, some lawyers may not appreciate that their attitudes, words, and actions carry a new weight and significance. In addition to your firm’s DEI training, consider a special module for new partners and leaders to spotlight how their leadership activities can promote or hinder the development of an inclusive culture.
Peter Drucker said, “Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.” Lawyers need both management and leadership training. When designing your new partner training, consider these four management topics:
Understanding Law Firm Finance and Accounting
In many firms, how money flows through a law firm is a mystery for associates, and often remains so for new partners. Spend some time walking new partners through the value chain of law firm finance, from how matters are priced and billed, through the billing system, accounts receivable, expenses, profitability, and compensation. Help them understand their role in the value chain, and how their actions impact firm profitability. Many firms will use this time to introduce how the firm measures financial success on the individual, group, office and firm level.
Understanding the Six Forces on Law Firm Strategy
New partners should understand the dynamic nature of the legal business, and how the firm and each practice/industry group deals with the six forces of law firm strategy:
- Changing client expectations
- Big data and legal technology (including artificial intelligence and automation)
- Competitor pressures (including emerging competitors like accounting firms and alt.law)
- Generational impact (issues of generational differences, succession planning, and engaging and retaining younger professionals)
- Globalization and emerging regulatory environment (how regulations on legal provides are providing opportunities and threats to the organization).
- VUCA economic and political environment (how changes in politics, culture, the environment, economics and other external factors impact the firm’s ability to achieve its strategic goals).
Understanding the Four Strategic Imperatives for Law Firm Management
New partners need to understand how both their practice/industry group and firm strategy needs to address the forces mentioned above by intentional actions in the areas of:
- Radical client focus, including the ability to bring creative problem solving and innovation to clients.
- Big data – leveraging technology tools of artificial intelligence, automation and other legal tech tools to drive cost down and improve client service.
- Engaging people – attitudes and activities to better engage, develop and retain people.
- Sustainability – actions that build firm culture and contribute to community in the areas of justice, environmental sustainability, DEI, community service, pro bono work, creating a positive culture and ethical leadership.
While many firms are now offering business development training and coaching to its lawyers before they become partners, there is still room for improvement. Too often, partners feel the pressure to grow a book of business as soon as they are elevated to partner. New partners can benefit from training and one-on-one coaching in the areas of personal branding, developing a prospect pipeline, building a strategic network, tracking prospects and referral sources, conducting business development conversations (consultative selling models) and using linkedin.com and social media for reputation development. This is also an appropriate time for partners to better understand lead generation and conversion techniques for practice/industry groups as well as individual business development.
How does your firm support lawyers transition from associate to partner? Do you provide both management and leadership development opportunities? Do they have an opportunity to talk about their concerns, aspirations and plans with each other, or a coach? Are development opportunities concentrated into an afternoon training session or zoom call, or are they spread out over time?
If you would like to talk about your firm’s leadership and management development program for new partners, drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a call.