November/December 2019

Editor's Note

Learning About Leadership

Mary Vandenack

Leaders in law firms often have leadership positions because of lawyering skills they possess unrelated to leadership. For example, lawyers who are skilled at rainmaking might be moved into a leadership role because they have succeeded in attracting significant clients. But rainmaking skills don’t necessarily translate into the skills needed for leading a law firm. 

Fourteen years ago, I left a big law firm to start my own firm. I had built an extensive client base and developed excellent technical skills but had no formal training or experience in leadership. As a new leader, I was unequipped for what was required to set a strategic vision for our new firm and to engage others in a way that supported that vision. I had great clients but no real idea how to bring others along in a way that would help me serve that client base and build the technologically savvy, client-oriented firm that I envisioned.

Law firm leaders are often expected to be able to do it all—practice law, make rain, create vision and have people skills. Doing it all is extraordinarily challenging and can lead to burnout. I know that, at one point, I considered rejoining a big law firm to let someone else attend to all the leadership issues. Fortunately, a good friend pointed out to me that once you have built a practice, it’s necessary to have leadership skills to keep it intact, whether you are in a big law firm or practicing solo. My friend’s words encouraged me to get serious about developing my own leadership skills as well as those of others. Every person at our current law firm has the ability to provide leadership in some capacity. 

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