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Law Practice Magazine

The Leadership Issue

Editor's Note: Everyone is a Leader . . . and a Follower

Courtney E Ward-Reichard


  • Everyone needs to have skills as a leader and a follower.
  • The best leaders are adept at service and remain calm under pressure.
  • This month’s issue focuses on skills and techniques to improve your leadership style.
Editor's Note: Everyone is a Leader . . . and a Follower

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Everyone is a leader sometimes––whether it’s taking the reins in a meeting, directing an assistant or paralegal in a task or being the managing partner of a law firm, there are moments when we all need leadership skills. Everyone needs to follow sometimes too, and understanding leadership styles can make you better able to connect with your leader and adapt to their style if needed.

There are certainly many examples of “bad” leaders: someone who screams and yells, blames the team for poor performance, deflects from their own failings, is disorganized, wastes time or reacts poorly to stress. The result for these leaders is often poor performance by their team, and certainly burnout, or resignation from team members. There are undoubtedly environments where people like this succeed, at least for a while. But it seems like there is also an almost inevitable fall.

I have been fortunate to work for more than 25 years at a law firm that places an extremely high value on effective leadership. There are many qualities that the great leaders I have worked with exemplify, but there are two that stand out to me. The first is a leader who is adept at service and is able and willing to perform any task needed, or personally find someone who can. No detail of the enterprise is beneath them.

The second is a leader who remains calm under pressure––and in the face of mistakes or poor performance. Chaos and panic are the worst reactions to have in this moment, and only exacerbate any crisis. In the recent season finale of The Bear (worth your time), the title character was accidentally locked in the freezer amid chaos and his team was floundering. Someone else (whom you might least expect, based on his history) stepped up and led the team effectively, tackling tasks one at a time, calmly and capably. It was electric as the team fell into place and began working in sync, and undoubtedly the basis for soul searching next season.

The authors in this issue also have terrific ideas about leadership that everyone in your organization can use to improve performance and job satisfaction. In “Rainmaking and Leadership Are Divorced, and the Firm Is Not Alright,” Betsy Miller explores how law firms often cultivate rainmakers and leaders separately and set up compensation systems that create competition between these roles. Instead, law firms should recognize that the combination of rainmakers and leaders creates an environment where everyone can thrive.

Kendra Brodin and Kelli Dunaway discuss the difficult leadership task of giving feedback in “Giving Feedback with Emotional Intelligence.” Many lawyers either avoid giving feedback or are less than candid because giving feedback can be so difficult. But emotional intelligence techniques can help lawyers learn to give meaningful feedback.

John Phelps takes on the concept of courage in leadership, in “Practicing Personal Courage in the Legal Profession.” Phelps uses his military background to discuss scenarios in a law office where courage is needed––everything from internal performance issues to interacting with the court, clients or opposing counsel.

Next, Dave Christensen moderates an excellent roundtable discussion by four managing partners of midsize law firms in “Grappling with Culture after COVID.” The significant challenge, of course, is managing the desire of employees to continue remote work. Some firms work to promote a return to in-office expectations, while others work to retain valued culture in a new hybrid environment. These leaders fall in the latter group, giving excellent examples of techniques to retain connection while also supporting the flexible work arrangements that firm employees want.

M. Suzanne Hartness takes on the reality of generational change facing all law firm leaders in “Bridging Generational Gaps in Law Firms.” Baby Boomers are leaving the workforce, Gen X is taking over leadership roles, Millennials dominate in numbers and Gen Z is entering the workforce––and differing expectations of each generation can have detrimental effects on firm culture. Effective leadership can bridge these gaps and allow generational differences to instead enhance the culture of a firm.

Finally, L.O. Natt Gantt, II reflects on the importance of legal education for future leaders in “Law Schools’ Pivotal Role in Lawyer-Leadership Formation.” More than ever, law schools are embracing ideas of the professional formation movement––teaching students not only how to understand the law, but also teaching practical skills that are important in practicing law. Leadership skills are an important aspect of such education.

Again, we are all leaders at least some of the time, and there is something in this issue of Law Practice for everyone from a freshly graduated associate to a managing partner.

Thank you to Marcia Wasserman, Tom Grella and John Bowers for their terrific work on this month’s issue focusing on leadership.