Five skills for becoming a legal leader

Posted in Blog on 28 Jan 2019

Most legal professionals reading this want to be leaders. It’s something that around 7-out-of-10 of you are striving for. That’s according to findings from this year’s Salary and Benefits Benchmarker, as well as the annual surveys we’ve run since 2015. We’ve always found 69% or 70% of respondents have leadership ambitions.

Rather than using this as cue to debate are leaders born or made? We thought it’d be more useful to look at five skills required to become a successful leader.


Much more than simply a business buzzword, research has revealed agility as the number one priority for business leaders. This is covered by Dr Simon Hayward in his book, The Agile Leader, where he looks at how being agile enables leaders to achieve goals and to react to new opportunities more swiftly and decisively. It’s a skill that’s even more important in today’s hyper-connected world, where client expectations are heightened. Effective legal leaders can balance the complexities of regulation and legislation with meeting the demand for increasingly real-time counsel.

    Emotional intelligence  

    As technology and artificial intelligence continue to change the shape of the legal sector, people skills will become even more important. Being able to understand people and being empathetic will help leaders to determine when digitisation is helping professionals or when it is owning them. This will help avoid fatigue and promote more positive mental health and wellbeing. It’ll improve the overall quality of work and workplace culture. Emotional intelligence is also crucial to differentiating law firms. People buy from people and technology won’t change this. 

    Lead by example 

    In recent years, much has been made of skills like ‘transparency’ and ‘authenticity’. These traits will take on a whole new meaning as more millennials and Gen Zs start to make-up legal teams. These generations are hungry for knowledge, and value leaders that share experience and insight by ‘showing’ as opposed to preaching. Leading by example doesn’t just gain their respect, it encourages their passion and enthusiasm, which motivates innovation. Leaders need to shed the cloak of privacy and exclusiveness that’s sometimes wrapped around the boardroom and partnership status. They need to be able to show how leaders work and lead.


    Leaders need to make their leadership about the law firm and their employees, and not about themselves. This can be achieved by making time to listen to people throughout the firm, welcoming their opinions and input. It’s also about being accessible, eradicating any fear that a leader is autocratic.

    Shared vision

    Strong leadership needs a strong vision. This now also needs to be a shared vision. Employees will only truly listen, support a leader and give their full commitment if they fully understand what they’re striving for. Having clarity also means people can decide if they want to work towards achieving the vision or make choices to work elsewhere. It can also help avoid unhelpful speculation. A successful leader will not only share their vision for the practice or firm, they’ll invite their teams to share how they think they can contribute to the goals. This helps empower and motivate teams. 

    To view the latest leading legal positions click here. For more helpful career insights, visit our blog or contact our team of experts.

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