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Professional Development

Your Ability to Lead Is Vital to a Successful Legal Career

Erin Rhinehart


  • The ability to lead is vital to the success of your legal career, but what does it really take to be a good leader? While not an exhaustive list, these four qualities are an excellent place to start. 
Your Ability to Lead Is Vital to a Successful Legal Career
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Leadership. Quite frankly, when I graduated from law school nearly 10 years ago, leadership was not as common a topic of discussion among young attorneys as it is today. Now, as law students become newly minted lawyers, the ability to lead is vital to the success of one's legal career (or any career for that matter).

News articles, legal books and journals, social media, and blogs often tout the necessity of leadership skills, how to get and develop these skills, and how to become a strong leader. Indeed, nearly every major metropolitan city now hosts its own leadership program. Bar associations boast a variety of leadership development programs and seminars. Sure, it is easy to tell young attorneys that they must be leaders to succeed in their firm, company, or office. But what does it really take to be a good leader?

Over the years, I have culled through heaps of leadership articles and identified what I consider to be, the top four leadership qualities. While this list is nowhere near exhaustive and hardly easy to master, it is an excellent start.

Know Thyself

Define yourself or others will. A good leader is self-aware and self-confident. These virtues are a result of knowing your strengths and your weaknesses.

Define Your Goals

How can you be a good leader if you don't know where you're going? Take an active role in setting both short- and long-term goals for yourself and your firm or company. Projects, promotions, and other life desires often seem overwhelming at first. Setting a long-term goal (like making partner in your law firm, for example) may be years away. But, there are things you can do now to achieve that goal (such as developing relationships that may generate business opportunities or publishing articles on an area of law on which you want to become an expert). The ability to make a daunting task seem doable is inspiring. Good leaders motivate others to do what they themselves thought they were not capable of doing.

Keep Your Ears Open and Your Mouth Shut

Be a good listener. This one is tough. We often want to be seen as the person with all the answers. But take a look around the room next time you are in a meeting with your colleagues. Who does most of the talking? Who does most of the listening? Who brings the group together? Who came up with the solution that got implemented? Good leaders often sit back, listen to everyone—their superiors and subordinates—and then offer an opinion or suggestion. They consider different perspectives and recognize that they do not have all the answers. And, importantly, they give credit where credit is due.

Be Resilient

Good leaders are not perfect; far from it. What often makes a good leader is how she handles her failures and mistakes. A good leader sees setbacks as part of the journey, not the end.