Grooming Potential Leaders: Legal Practice Management Tips

Managers in law firms and corporate legal departments should always be on the lookout for legal professionals who have the skills and desire to lead. These potential leaders require mentoring and career development opportunities if your legal organization expects them to step up and become a member of the next generation of managers.

Consider these steps to build leadership within your organization:

  1. Identify Likely Candidates. Finding the up-and-coming leaders in your firm or organization isn't as simple as just grooming your top-performing attorneys. Even the best lawyers can lack the necessary skills or desire to lead. Instead of focusing just on legal capabilities, identify associates who demonstrate strong project- and people-management skills. More specifically, they should be effective communicators with the ability to receive and give constructive criticism in a diplomatic way. They should be innovative and forward-thinking, persuasive and inspirational. And they should understand the business side of the organization as well as their clients' business goals.

  2. Build Mentoring Relationships. Opportunities to work with experienced attorneys as mentors can help associates and other professionals develop strategic decision-making and leadership skills. Foster these connections in your office by setting up confidential relationships with parties who have expressed interest in these roles. Well-matched mentors can help staff strengthen not only their ability to manage project teams and individuals but their interpersonal skills, which are necessary for leadership roles.

  3. Invest in Legal Career Development for Associates. On a regular basis, provide career development opportunities to associates you've identified as potential leaders. Opportunities should focus on enhancing your associates' business knowledge and their ability to practice law. For example, provide them with training on new law office technology and legal software applications; enroll them in continuing legal education (CLE) courses on new developments in the legal profession; invite them to participate in high-profile cases or in strategy or business planning sessions with senior attorneys. As well, encourage them to attend seminars and conferences to keep up with the latest news in their practice area.

  4. Provide Growth Opportunities to Enhance “Soft Skills.” Growth opportunities should also emphasize improving associates' “soft skills,” capabilities that are crucial for leadership success – for example, communication skills, teamwork, project collaboration, conflict resolution, problem-solving, adaptability, and critical observation. Leaders in any legal organization need to be effective communicators and have a keen aptitude to guide and motivate employees as well as direct and manage the business to remain profitable.

Legal organizations need to be proactive about identifying future leaders and grooming them for top positions. Look for professionals with superior soft skills, those who exhibit an intellectual curiosity about the legal profession and willingness to invest the time and energy to learn. Encourage these candidates to work with a mentor and take advantage of career development opportunities so when a leadership position opens, they'll be ready — and your organization will be, too.

For more information on law office management, view Robert Half Legal's 5 Keys to Succession Planning.