One of the biggest challenges lawyers face is making the leap from being able to lead one or two teams successfully to guiding a much larger group. Several of the midcareer attorneys I coach have said that they are struggling to expand their practice or role because what they do “is not scalable.” Translated, they mean that while they have mastered the ability to lead the teams working on their cases or projects, they don’t have any more bandwidth for new clients, or new leadership opportunities, or even expanded rainmaking. When I ask how they have risen to their current positions as law firm partners or senior in-house counsel, they attribute their success to being able to devise winning legal strategies and keep on top of the workflow in each of their matters, and to closely managing the more junior attorneys and support staff doing the majority of the hands-on research, drafting, and organizing.
These ambitious, talented attorneys are not senior rainmakers in their firms, or general counsels in-house, yet they want to rise to those levels. Because they believe their success has been based on managing every detail of every case or project, and personally making the right decisions on those matters every day, they don’t see a path forward to having a bigger book of business or larger scope of responsibility because they don’t have room to take on more. And how could they, when their attention to detail is so sweeping? If every matter requires hands-on attention at a very detailed level, it doesn’t take long for an attorney to be at full capacity—and understandably so.