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Law Firm Growth

Legal Leadership: How to Future-Proof Your Law Firm

By Wendy Merrill

Despite traditional expectations that lawyers must always be in “knowing mode,” the best law firm leaders always stay in “learning mode.” Here are a few things firms can do to become healthier, more curious, and more human-centered.

best law firm leaders

Lawyers, do you ever feel as though you are expected to be a human Wikipedia? It is an unwritten rule that you should be prepared to meet clients’ expectations of endless knowledge, deep expertise, gravitas, unshakeable confidence, and a mastery of the art of communication. A tall order, to be sure, but a high bar that many firms push people to reach.

In fact, this expectation that lawyers be in a perpetual state of “knowing” does a disservice to clients, the firm and the lawyer.

If you are always in “knowing mode” you’re not learning, and to be effective advocates, you must adopt an ABC mentality.

Always Be Curious

Curiosity is the secret sauce for effective law firm leadership and sound advocacy for clients. The possession of knowledge is essential, but without the desire to learn, a lawyer is no more valuable than a Google search.

Adopting a learning mentality is also vital for firm leadership.

Partners who lack humility and the humanness to be intellectually curious do a disservice to the people they lead. Confident leaders develop their confidence through resilience, nimbleness, and the ability to seek new and better ways to do things. In doing so, they set an important example for the rest of the firm.

Future-Proofing Your Law Firm

The future of law is about relatability.

For small to midsize law firms in particular, clients no longer want to feel intimidated by the traditional hubris exhibited by many in the legal profession. Instead, legal consumers want and need an advocate who is willing to “sit on the same side of the table” as them. They don’t want confusing legalese spoken to them, or to be billed for things they don’t understand. Forward-thinking firms get this and are willing to invest in training their attorneys to deliver an excellent client experience.

In this case, “excellence” represents the ability of a lawyer to reduce a client’s anxiety and make them feel more empowered to make educated decisions throughout their work together and beyond.

Creating a culture of relatable lawyers breaks from the traditional law firm model and requires vision, alignment, discipline, engagement and accountability.

4 Steps Toward Creating a More Relatable Law Firm

If you are a law firm leader — or an aspiring one — here are a few things your firm can do to become healthier, more curious and more human-centered.

1. Leadership Training

Leadership skills are not taught in law school, yet they are critical to lawyers’ success. Firms that invest in professional development programs that focus on helping attorneys to lead effectively not only strengthen the firm’s bench but also have a useful tool in attracting and retaining talent.

2. Client Journey Road Map

The experience a client has with a firm should not fall to happenstance. To ensure a healthy, impactful and profitable client relationship, firms must be intentional in choreographing every step of the client’s experience with the firm and its people. Creating a “client journey road map” provides guidance to everyone at the firm who will “touch” the client or their matter in some way. Designing a client onboarding process that includes thoughtful and intuitive questions will establish trust and position attorneys as the curious, relatable and compassionate advocates their clients need.

3. Team Building

Many law firms have “eat what you kill” cultures that are filled with uber-competitive attorneys who are not incentivized to be collaborative. While this may drive billable hours, building a firm full of “silo-ized” lawyers does nothing to foster an environment conducive to learning or leading. Creating activities and systems around building camaraderie and team spirit goes a long way in delivering both client satisfaction and improved attorney retention.

4. Feedback

This word sends chills down many spines. When we think about providing or receiving feedback, we automatically imagine words of criticism and suggestions for improvement, but that is only half of the equation. Establishing a system for the exchange of feedback, both positive and constructively critical, will do much to improve rapport within the firm, instill a sense of firm citizenship among attorneys, and support a culture of perpetual learning and development.

What Is Your Firm Doing to Lead the Way?

Future-proofing your firm requires a new way of thinking. Long-term success will be realized by the lawyers and firms that understand the value of humility, self-awareness, and a desire to genuinely connect with clients in a very human way.

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Wendy Merrill Wendy Merrill

Wendy Merrill is a fierce advocate for improving the practice of law. She has worked with thousands of lawyers around the world, providing practical guidance and proven techniques designed to help lawyers and their firms thrive. Wendy is both the proud CEO of StrategyHorse, a consulting firm committed to boosting law firm profitability with proven strategies, and co-founder of The Savvy Advocate, a unique associate training program designed to prepare younger lawyers and their firms for success. She is also an author and prominent speaker on law firm growth strategy, winning the war for legal talent, bridging the generational gap in law firms, and more.

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