Leadership in 2011

♬ I should have been there to inspire you
Not paint your world a cold, cold blue
I should have been there to inspire you
I could have told you truthful too
I believed in you, told you truthful too
Ohh, I believed in you, yeah…♬

Lyrics and music by Paul Weller.

Happy New Year to everyone. Over the holidays I happened to read a copy of “Principal” magazine, published by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (USA). What has that got to do with the practice of law, you may ask? Well, the theme of this particular issue was: “Training the Next Generation”. When was the last time you read a law or law-practice related magazine that was themed and devoted to the development of the future leaders of the legal profession?

Topics in this issue included:

  • “Fit for the Principalship” by Mike Johnston, R.K. Walker and Andy Levine.
  • “Leading Others into Leadership” by Jennifer Gill and Roberta Hendree.
  • “Shared Leadership at Its Best” by Bradley S. Portin.
  • “Developing Great Administrators One Teacher at a Time” by Kristen Nelson and
  • “Bridge the Divide” by Mary B. Martin.

Of course there is Managing Partner Magazine, an excellent publication aimed at those who run today’s law firm. But in the “About” section for this publication there is no specific mention of leadership or training:

Each issue of Managing Partner is written with the specific purpose of helping you:

* Maximise profitability
* Improve client relationships
* Increase marketability and brand recognition
* Deliver your core services at the highest standard
* Stay ahead of the competition.

With respect, I submit that there is also need for a specific focus on developing leadership for lawyers in today’s business environment.

For example, in the “Fit for the Principalship” article noted above, the authors discuss achieving transformational results in a school. They cite evidence-based research in stating:

We have found that certain leadership actions within the following five categories are critical to achieving these transformational results:

  • Ensuring rigorous, goal- and data-driven learning and teaching;
  • Building and maintaining a high-quality staff aligned to the school’s vision of success for every student;
  • Developing an achievement- and belief-based schoolwide culture;
  • Instituting operations and systems to support learning; and
  • Modeling the personal leadership that sets the tone for all student adult relationships in the school.
  • Translating these five categories to a law-firm environment, we can see the clear parallels for a law firm to achieve transformational results:

    • While law firms are goal and performance driven, there is much evidence from associates to show that they lack mentorship and a learning focus.
    • Law firms do ensure that they have strong and high-quality staff but they may not always have a firm-wide vision of success for every lawyer and staff member in the firm.
    • Law firms may not always have a culture that supports the achievement of every lawyer and staff member – rather we tend to see a ‘sink or swim’ culture in many firms.
    • In terms of instituting operations and systems to support operations, many times we see firms who are reluctant to invest in infrastructure and development of staff, seeing these as expenses rather than an investment in the future of the firm.
    • Lastly, it may not always be true that upper management models the behaviour that they wish from everyone else in the firm.

    Certainly there are differences between schools and law firms! But the art of leadership – whether you are directing a school or a law firm – is at its most basic about helping others to excel.

    What I found most ironic about this particular issue was the last article: “Bridge the Divide” by Mary B. Martin. That article discusses the gap between university training and practice and notes the need for a shared responsibility between universities and school boards to prepare future principals. In particular:

    The Southern Regional Education Board also assets that until such a partnership is forged, a serious division will persist between what districts expect of newly hired principals and what universities prepare them to do.

    I daresay that there is a recognized gap between legal education and legal practice; there is an even bigger gap when it comes to university training for law firm leaders. True, lawyers can undertake an MBA degree which would at least provide a business management underpinning for a law firm leadership role, but few law firm leaders take this step.

    All of this is a roundabout way of stating my New Year’s Resolution – to focus on law firm leadership in my posts on Slaw in 2011. Together hopefully, we can inspire each other to new heights.

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