Law Firm Management: How to be a better leader
By Christopher Earley
Law firm leaders have an enormous responsibility. Being a lawyer can be stressful enough, but when you layer in the added responsibility of being a leader, the charge can be a heavy one. Here are practices I focus on and try to get better at each day so that my team members grow, the law firm grows, and I grow.
Always project calm. I’ve been running a personal injury firm for almost 20 years. There have been many times when the ups and downs of the practice would greatly impact my mood. I can tell you from personal experience that team members pick-up on how you are feeling. Strong leaders project calm, no matter the season. Display that calm, even when you are scared or nervous. Your team will feel reassured because your mood trickles down to everyone.
Get to know your team. Do you know the names or your team members’ kids? Their spouses’ names? Their passions and hobbies? I suggest knowing this information. Write it down somewhere so you don’t forget it. Then you can periodically check-in with individual team members about the people and interests that are central to who they are and what they most care about. This matters, and very few law firm leaders do it.
Be vulnerable. The best leaders trust their team and are vulnerable with them. My team knows my personal story of childhood trauma from growing up in a dysfunctional environment. I feel it is important that they know me as a person with a story, rather than just as a lawyer. You want your team to know your story because they will feel more connected. True leaders are transparent about who they are and what they are about.
Listen more than you talk. Many lawyers like to share how much they know and how smart they are. As lawyers we often have big egos. That may help in certain areas of practicing law, but it does not serve the law firm leader very well. Put your ego to the side. When talking with your team, make sure to listen more. Not only is that a hallmark of strong leadership, but when you listen, you will learn new and unexpected things. Try to listen 75 percent of the time and you instantly become a better and more effective leader.
Give praise. If someone has a win, publicly or privately, praise them. Give them a shout out. And if you really want to show them you care, ask them how they like to be complimented. Some people prefer public praise, while others prefer private praise. Some people prefer to be told directly, some prefer a handwritten note. Find out their preferences by asking. And if someone falls short, never, ever publicly rebuke them or call them out. Rather, speak with them privately about the ways they can do better next time. This is important. Just one public criticism can dampen someone’s confidence.
Be sure everyone knows where the firm is headed. Team members don’t want to be in the dark. They want and need to know what the future of the law firm looks like. I recently, per Cameron Herold’s superb book “Vivid Vision,” wrote in great detail what my law firm will look like in three years. I shared this document with my team. The more you share with your team, the greater they become engaged and it becomes easier to retain your top performers.
Perhaps most importantly, the best lawyer-leaders are also forever learners. They read books on leadership. They attend conferences and create connections with other leaders to ensure they are consistently leveling up. After all, if the leaders of a law firm are not continually growing, then how can the law firm, and all its team members grow?
“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” – John Maxwell
If you have thoughts about law firm leadership, I would love to hear from you. Please email me at [email protected].
Christopher Earley is a Boston personal injury attorney and author who focuses his practice on the representation of the seriously injured and their families. His firm website is www.ChrisEarley.com.