Sound Advice for New Law Firm Leaders (Part 1)

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Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of conducting research and one-on-one interviews with at least 50 law firm leaders who provided their real-world perspectives and experience on all aspects of becoming a firm leader — from the agony of deciding to take on the job, to making the difficult transition from just practicing law, to also leading an entire firm. All of my work unhesitatingly confirms for me that there are some critical actions that new leaders will need to take to ensure a successful tenure at the top. These include the following:

1. Prepare for some challenges you might not have expected.

Your first 100 days will pose some new job challenges for which you may feel ill–equipped to handle, such as: i) the need to build some new networks and forge new internal relationships while contending with an inherited team of internal professionals (COO, CMO, HR, etc.) whom you may not fully understand; ii) the risk of being overwhelmed with immediate “firefighting” and partner-driven requests which serve to distract your attention from establishing the right strategic priorities; iii) the need to deal with the legacy issues from your predecessor; and iv) the pressure to get the right balance between moving too fast and too slow.

2. Fine-tune your listening system.

Spend time with individuals from across the firm. Let them know you are counting on them to fill you in on any important issues so you can be both more effective and more sensitive to people’s perspectives. Let your partners know you need their input to be effective, too. Encourage them to identify issues that they believe need your attention, as long as the suggestions are positive and forward-looking and not an excuse to attack or criticize someone behind their back.

3. Start to develop your strategic agenda.

Write down what you consider to be the two or three most important priorities for you on which to focus over your first 100 days as law firm leader. When things get out of hand (and they will) and you are overwhelmed reacting to everyone’s demands on your time, revisit this priorities list to remind yourself about what is most important.

4. Continually make “To-Do” lists.

It’s a trivial technique but critically important — if you make a list of all the important things that you want to get accomplished, it serves to get them out of your head and on paper (or in a computer file). That way, you don’t have to waste any further time thinking about them.

5. Prioritize your activities.

To feel a sense of control, you should make it a regular habit to prioritize your responsibilities using the old A-B-C process. Your As are those tasks that correspond with implementing your strategic agenda for the coming months; the Bs are important but can wait; and the Cs definitely need to be delegated to someone else.

6. Don’t allow the urgent to crowd out the important.

Plan each day and plan each week. Check your daily schedule every morning before reading your e-mail and preview your week on Sunday evening. It’s also important to review your upcoming month’s commitments a couple of days before the end of each month.

In my next installment, I will provide you with the final six critical actions that new firm leaders need to take.