November/December 2020

Simple Steps

Critical Skills for Aspiring Leaders

Allison C. Shields Johs

The abrupt closures and restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic have changed much about how law is practiced today and will be practiced in the future. But with change comes opportunity. Leaders who can pivot and innovate in a rapidly changing marketplace will help their firms to survive—and thrive—while other firms fall by the wayside. However, in an article for in May 2020 titled “Leadership and the Law: How Law Firms Can Fix a Puzzling Quirk,” leadership coach and law firm leader Betsy Miller says that while law firms cultivate the skills required to practice law, they often fail to appropriately invest in their talent by not teaching or valuing the skills required to lead, leaving a leadership void at a time when those skills are needed more than ever.

Miller recommends that firms build capacity by identifying and developing lawyers willing to take on the challenge of adapting law firm governance. But if law firms were not investing in training or coaching their lawyers to develop the skills necessary to become effective leaders before the pandemic, after experiencing closures, reduced cash flow and increased pressure on law firm budgets, even fewer firm resources may be available for leadership training and development after the pandemic. As a result, it may be time for aspiring law firm leaders to take charge of their own leadership development.

Aspiring leaders willing to make an investment in themselves and develop these skills on their own will have an advantage when leadership opportunities arise. And if their firms do decide to invest in cultivating future leaders, those lawyers who have already demonstrated a commitment to leadership development are likely to reap the benefits first.

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