Are You a Leader or Still a Partner? Choose.

This article was first published in Lex Witness November 2015 issue.

It was technology to begin with, followed by a major change across client servicing dynamics as far as the service industry sectors are concerned. Furthermore, the liberalization paradigm shift in the India legal services market have opened up new flood gates. Amongst these changes, we saw a shift towards setting up law firms versus limiting to independent and chamber practice.

There are approximately 1.2 million lawyers in India as per the Bar Council of India, and about 4 to 5 lacs students are studying law at this very minute. This in turn means that about 60,000 to 70,000 law school graduates enter the market every year.

Innovative roles are evolving to deliver legal services to the market, sought after by even more diverse clients. We can now see the Indian law firm market being divided into 3 categories:

Old Traditional Firms – with a lineage to back them,
New Boutique Firms – set up by experienced lawyers, and
New and upcoming firms – started by young motivated entrepreneurs in the legal industry

Each of these categories have seen promising leaders in the form of Founding Partners, Managing Partners, Star Lawyers, Rising Stars and Rainmakers. However, unfortunately, too often the inter-firm practice groups or the firm as a whole is led by the most senior lawyer or the lawyer with the biggest book of business which may not be the right person for the job.

Hence, it is now pertinent that the firm has leadership evolving at every stage:

Become a Change Agent

The role of a Managing Partner has seen a parallel shift from merely having the managerial rights to the one driving the business in the forefront. The rein-holder of the firm is no more restricted to being just the ‘caretaker’ anymore. Today, a promising Managing Partner will not be afraid to rock the boat, if it benefits the firm, and become a ‘change agent’ in the process. In the current scenario, the Managing Partner is the CEO of a multi-million dollar entity in a rapidly changing industry. He/She will have to be capable to exercise critical leadership skills to set the example for leaders at all other levels of the firm and thus ensure the organization’s success.

Be Multi-Talented

A successful firm leader must is a good mix of various talent hues and shades that help grow the firm through its vision. Effective communication, negotiation, mentorship, disciplinarian and being an overall cheerleader are some of the must haves today. Very rare can we find a mix of all of this wrapped up in one person. However, it is crucial for a leader to aspire to bring to the table as many of these qualities as possible, in order to take the firm to the next level.

Become a Spirit Guide

In order to grow as a team of talented and successful professionals, it is very much required for the firm leaders to be set the course for the rest to follow. It is proven far and wide that firms that have plans and follow a charted course, outperform those that do not. A firm’s leader(s) should develop a firm-wide strategic plan, for others to embrace, and encourage the plan’s implementation at the firm, practice group and individual lawyer levels.

Build an ‘Intrapreneurial’ Culture

Leaders should always encourage and reward an ‘intrapreneurial’ mind-set and attitude among all the firm members. This effectively means that the team members should be encouraged to think on the overall growth of the firm, which in turn benefits themselves. There are a variety of ways to do this, including efficient lawyers and employees being compensated for his or her non-billable contributions. Insist on the term “our” instead of “mine” and “yours.” Leaders must do everything possible to promote trust, teamwork and fairness within the firm. Resist the temptation to enhance profitably through cost cutting. Profitable firms look at long-term impacts.

Invest in the Future

Since no one is going to stay forever, it is crucial to ‘invest’ and mentor talent for future. The best leaders are wise enough to identify and mentor a successor for their roles. They give that person important, high-profile assignments so that the firm’s people gain trust and confidence in the successor’s leadership skills well before the torch is actually passed.

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