The leadership challenge for law firms

The leadership challenge for law firms

The legal sector is facing challenges unlike any before. Even pre-COVID-19, advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and global competition meant big change is only just over the horizon.

Progressive firms are becoming more client-focused, more agile and more engaging, inspiring places to work. But many firms have not yet transformed sufficiently to allay the fears of how to stay relevant in the next decade. Attracting and retaining young, talented professionals looking for modern thinking and opportunities based on merit not status may not have been a priority in the past but employees will vote with their feet as more enterprising firms prevail.

We only need to look at the hard lessons learnt by financial services since the 2008 crisis to know that tradition and track record only serve you well for so long.

And now COVID-19. With enforced remote-working firms have had to adapt quickly to continue their practice in conditions unimaginable just a few months ago. Leaders are under significant pressure as they work hard to empathise, engage and motivate peak performance from their teams whilst themselves working in extraordinary circumstances and a system that does not traditionally value ‘people skills’.

Whilst billable hours are the traditional measure of success and focus of attention for Equity Partners, the threat of leadership burnout, reduced innovation and loss of talent will grow unnoticed until it’s too late.

What’s at the heart of the challenge?

Perhaps for the first time in the legal sector, the urgency for wholesale culture change is becoming unavoidable. Moving from a traditional, hierarchical model where people can only earn their value by working excessive hours and playing ‘by the rules’, to a modern, adaptive, truly client-centred organisation cannot be done as a side-of-desk ‘quick fix’ project.


As Forbes state in their recent research “Change starts with culture, not technology. It requires a collective commitment to define the profession/industry by new metrics. What is valued most is not law school ranking, profit-per-partner, or ‘innovation’ awards but client outcomes, net promoter score (e.g. client satisfaction), and quantifiable, impactful results, not self-congratulation.”

First and foremost, culture evolution starts with collective commitment not just to ‘do’ different but to ‘be’ different. This starts with personal change from Equity Partners leading to collective change across a whole organisation. This is about creating a movement within an organisation, with shared ambitions and the freedom and support to make it happen. This takes a new kind of leadership.

3 Immediate Steps

1 Embrace your people

As is often said, people are your greatest asset and never more than in times of crisis. As McKinsey say in their recent report “Your people are your law firm”. In all sectors, people closest to the client are the source of greatest inspiration and innovation. Involve them in solving the firm’s problems; encourage client-facing teams to continually find out client’s needs and how best to meet them. Never assume the traditional way is the best way.

2 Review ways of working

Our recent research has shown 75% of senior leaders reported a positive impact of lockdown on way of working including dramatically increased innovation, engagement and effectiveness. Prioritise conversations across teams to understand what positive changes have been triggered by the crisis, how they are impacting productivity, effectiveness and wellbeing and deliberately build them into future working practices.

3 Invest in your leaders

Leaders are under phenomenal pressure to lead teams successfully through lockdown and now the transition to a new world of work, whilst also billing hours. In many firms only the latter is valued. Invest in leaders’ capability – how to maximise the contribution of their team when working remotely; how to innovate services to meet clients changing needs and how to maintain personal stamina and resilience.

At Pecan we provide 121, team and group coaching for leaders. We also build coaching capability within organisations, modernising leadership to successfully tackle today’s performance challenges with their teams. Our programmes are now available on-line. To find out more get in touch at [email protected] or call us on 01280824508.

Article first published by Women in the Law on 8th July 2020


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