Beyond Legal Expertise: What Makes a Lawyer a Great Leader?

On President’s Day, it’s interesting to note that many of our nation’s leaders have also been lawyers, including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, to name a few. So, what makes lawyers natural born leaders? And what are some of the qualities — apart from legal expertise — lawyers need to be exemplary leaders? 

The skills and attributes that many great lawyers possess — empathy for others, strong communication and analytical skills, negotiation, persuasion and conflict resolution skills, high ethical standards, vision and diplomacy — often are a natural fit for senior management and leadership roles.

Beyond legal expertise

Nearly half (45 percent) of lawyers recently surveyed by Robert Half Legal said that aside from legal knowledge, "good judgment" is the most important attribute for a law firm or corporate legal department leader to possess. "Collaboration skills" ranked second, with 22 percent of the survey response."Great leaders not only provide a strategic vision directly linked to the organization’s business objectives, they also lead by example, demonstrating good judgment and other core values that legal team members should emulate," observes Charles.

With managing attorneys responsible for establishing goals, clarifying objectives, setting expectations, and motivating employees, some of the essential traits for these leadership roles include:

  • Exercising good judgment: Managing attorneys need to consistently demonstrate their ability to make good decisions, take prudent risks and implement sound solutions to challenges.  

  • Leading by example: To motivate teams to excel, managing attorneys should set and emulate high performance standards. Strong communication and collaboration skills are critical to building trust, setting direction and executing goals.

  • Building trust and supporting employees: Effective leaders delegate tasks and discuss how employees' contributions directly support the organization's objectives. They also involve legal professionals in decision-making and planning, and take time to recognize the accomplishments of individuals or teams.

Thinking ahead

In a competitive business environment, succession planning should be a top priority for legal organizations. Identifying up-and-coming legal professionals who have the skills and desire to lead and investing in their training and mentoring will be time and money well spent.

For more succession planning tips, download a complimentary copy of Robert Half Legal's Future Law Office report.