United States: Rejuvenating Corporate Leadership Principles For Law Practices

Last Updated: December 23 2015
Article by Sahara Pynes

Leadership probably wasn't one of the classes you took in law school or one of the topics you studied for the bar examination. Yet now you have a law firm management role, either as a department head, practice group leader or managing partner.  The downfall of too many law firms over the past five years led to much criticism of the model of law firm leadership.  In recent years, law firms have said they were managing themselves  more like businesses.  For some firms, that meant a shift from simultaneous practice of law and firm management by key leaders.  For others, it meant relying on a non-lawyer leadership model.  Many if not most law firm leaders, however, are still balancing an active legal practice with other management responsibilities. Regardless of where your firm falls on the spectrum, let's look at how you can transform your firm by applying corporate leadership principles to law firm management.

Inspire Trust

The most basic factor in successful personal and business relationships is trust. Trust is the bedrock of leadership and the essence of a high-performing organization. If employees don't trust you, they will not respect you and you will not motivate them to realize their full potential.

A national Gallup poll highlighted that less than one-third of employees are engaged. The poll also revealed a better than one in two chance of engagement when the organization's leadership is trusted.  Leadership expert and best-selling author Stephen M.R. Covey characterizes it as Smart Trust, which encourages trust with clear expectations and accountability.  In his research, Covey identifies behaviors that inspire trust in the workplace, including creating transparency, righting wrongs, practicing accountability and keeping commitments. His list of trust-building behaviors includes:

  1. Talk Straight
  2. Demonstrate Respect
  3. Create Transparency
  4. Right Wrongs
  5. Show Loyalty
  6. Deliver Results
  7. Get Better
  8. Confront Reality
  9. Clarify Expectation
  10. Practice Accountability
  11. Listen First
  12. Keep Commitments
  13. Extend Trust

Before trust can permeate an organization, great leaders build trust on a personal level. This means setting the standard by which individual partners and associates will measure themselves.  Set an example by getting time records in, mentoring younger colleagues, returning client phone calls and modeling other desirable behaviors.  On a broader level, be sure the firm's mission and values are reflected in its daily culture by incorporating them into your actions and interactions with firm members. As a firm leader, every touchpoint is an opportunity to reinforce these ideals, build trust among the ranks, and offer inspiration.


Great communicators walk the fine line of frank communications without over-communicating. The best communicators know how to listen and observe. They have the uncanny ability to assess nuances, dynamics, attitudes, values and concerns of a group setting. Not only do they read their environment well, but they adapt their messaging to said environment to achieve maximum impact.

Building on the importance of establishing trust in both personal interactions and broader firm communications, here are a few tactics to enhance your leadership skills through communication:

  • Build personal connections to establish rapport. Great leaders aren't locked behind closed doors in meetings all day. They need to understand who they are inspiring and leading. Be present at firm happy hours and events where you can mingle among staff and get to know them.
  • Be proactive and specific with firm communication. With the accessibility of legal blogs and mobile news, you don't want members of the firm to hear anything through the grapevine. Clear and specific direction from your organization will help maintain trust and support.
  • Establish a culture where feedback is constant and productive. An effective open door policy encourages communication between employee and management, allowing concerns or differences in opinion to be aired before becoming insurmountable obstacles. Giving employees access to management on a regular and informal basis engenders loyalty and trust.


Many law firms are still not using the ubiquity of social networks to enhance employee interactions and collaborative projects as well as other sectors do.  Research shows that leadership participation is crucial for collaboration. Leaders fear that engaging will close the power distance between them and their employees, lessening their ability to command and control. However, collaboration enables employees to have a voice and be active participants in the organization's shared goals, so that all employees are invested in each other's success. Being technologically "social" gives leaders another outlet to build collective trust and communicate shared values and goals.

Whether you have an internal social networking platform or prefer existing user-based networks like Twitter or Instagram, these avenues offer employees another opportunity to be heard and connect with management.  CEOs of Fortune 500 companies have shared that employee responses to their tweets far surpass any internal survey responses both in volume and in quality of ideas. To get started with sharing, identify the platform your employees are already using. Then think of what information you can share that will inspire someone to take action toward achieving a key objective. You could share the highlights of a new law or a news article that reinforces a strategic decision.  As a leader, the key is to use the collaborative information you receive in order to shape specific outcomes.


Great leaders leave a lasting legacy by taking the time to develop the next generation of leaders. Yet the future of talent development is rapidly changing and many law firm leaders are left without the resources to address these developments. The single-biggest shift in training is the evolution of the continuing education model.  Consider some of these non-traditional talent development tools to enhance employee satisfaction and loyalty.

Gamification, mobile learning, and adaptive learning are at the forefront of effective talent development. All three of these tools shun a "one size fits all" learning model and provides a more engaged user experience. We now know the best way to reach millennials is in bite-sized nuggets and through video content.  Gamification is an emerging learning model that has not yet permeated the legal industry. The Tennessee Bar Association has been a leader in this area, and has developed a handful of CLE games, like "Constitution Mountain Ski Adventure," focusing on Due Process, Equal Protection and the First Amendment. Law firms with existing content can partner with a technology provider who can assist in converting the material to a gaming platform.

Mobile efforts have fared better. Both West LegalEdCenter and Practising Law Institute allow users to download CLE courses with their mobile apps, enabling an associate waiting for a court hearing to effectively use her down time.

The message in talent cultivation is providing the right development for the right individual. With a move toward an adaptive learning program, employees learn at their own pace and can be monitored individually in real time to determine what learning approach will best suit their needs. It helps enhance employee engagement and retention by providing a flexible learning option while building confidence and overall expertise.

While law firms certainly differ from traditional business models in many ways, you can borrow much from the best business leaders to lead your law firm to a future of sustainability and success.

Previously published by Law Practice Today

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Sahara Pynes
In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions