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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    April 01, 2018

    On Balance
    6 New Leadership Skills to Develop for Tomorrow

    The evolving law practice arena requires new abilities of lawyers who hope to successfully lead their firms or businesses.

    Paula M. Davis-Laack

    building blocks

    How the legal profession has changed. The Great Recession was certainly a catalyst, but here we are, nine years later, and I can say for certain that change is here to stay. As such, lawyers will need to develop new leadership abilities if they want to be successful as the practice of law continues to evolve.

    Specifically, “lawyers of the future” will need to develop key skills1 to transition to a new way of leading that is focused on firm and organization governance, innovation, economics like rates and fee structures, service delivery, people management, business development, and marketing and sales, and how data about all these things is collected.

    According to talent development strategist Terri Mottershead, “pivotal to all these changes, particularly if they are to be sustained, is acting strategically, investing in the business, employing the right people and proactively managing change.” If you think that sounds like a tall order, it is. That is why the six leadership skills below are required.

    1. Champion Change, Innovation, Diversity, and Inclusion

    An era of change, innovation, and disruption requires leaders to be curious and question existing rules that aren’t working. Many firms are appointing innovation officers to monitor trends and implement new processes or products within the firm and for clients. In addition, companies such as Diversity Lab2 are holding hackathons, events meant to generate creative thinking about a topic.

    Paula Davis-LaackPaula Davis-Laack, Marquette 2002, MAPP, is the founder of the Stress & Resilience Institute, a training and consulting firm focused on enhancing resilience, well-being, and engagement in the legal profession. She is the author of the e-book, Addicted to Busy: Your Blueprint for Burnout Prevention.

    One recent Diversity Lab hackathon team proposed an idea that is now being tested in more than 30 law firms. It’s called the Mansfield Rule, named after the NFL’s Rooney Rule, and its goal is to increase diversity on leadership teams. The Mansfield Rule specifies that for hiring in certain law firm power positions, the candidate pool must include at least 30 percent women or minorities.3

    2. Engage in People Management

    The biggest lesson I learned from watching my parents grow a company they started from scratch is this: when you prioritize people ahead of money, you make more money. Law firms don’t make tangible products that can be sold – their best asset is their people, and people are at the core of what firms can achieve. Specifically, “knowing how to identify, predict, nurture and deploy the right people to the right job so they are engaged, motivated and productive is what differentiates new law workplaces.”4

    3. Prioritize Well-being

    Over the past two years, issues surrounding lawyers’ health and well-being have come into much sharper focus, as growing empirical and anecdotal evidence of lawyer distress and dysfunction have collided with a heightened willingness to do something about the problems.5 Lawyer well-being requires creating an overall healthy and positive quality of life that involves responsible choices for oneself and one’s clients. Importantly, well-being is not defined solely by the absence of illness; it includes a positive state of wellness.

    Design thinking not only helps you innovate; it also builds your resilience by helping to develop your capacity to generate multiple pathways and solutions and get unstuck quickly.

    This topic has gained traction in law firm and in-house legal departments, thanks in part to the publication of a groundbreaking 2017 report by the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being (and some states, as a result, now approve continuing legal education credit for these topics).6 Most recently, the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates adopted a resolution urging legal employers to increase efforts to address topics related to lawyer well-being.7

    4. Collaborate

    As legal work becomes more specialized and more complex, teams of multidisciplinary experts are going to be tasked to solve client challenges. This presents a challenge for lawyers who are often part of specific practice groups, which can make collaborating across groups expensive for clients.

    However, research reveals that clients served by two practice groups generate much more revenue than do clients served by a single practice, and this growth continues when more practice groups are involved. For teams to be effective, team members must assess goals, know each other’s strengths and working styles, provide ongoing feedback to each other, and manage conflict.8

    5. Demonstrate and Encourage Resilience

    Resilience is a person’s capacity for stress-related growth and consists of skills and strategies that can be learned, practiced, and improved.9 Change and stress travel together, and some innovative legal service products, processes, and systems will fail. Law firm leaders and lawyers must be able to work within and be comfortable with this type of environment, and leaders, in particular, must inspire others.

    6. Promote Design Thinking

    Design thinking is a problem-solving process to help generate options, test strategies, and get feedback so that you can innovate (it’s the method most often used to facilitate the creation of new products or processes).10 It’s also a great methodology for trouble shooting general life challenges. Design thinking not only helps you innovate; it also builds your resilience by helping to develop your capacity to generate multiple pathways and solutions and get unstuck quickly.


    How do you want your practice to look in the next 10 years? How do you want your law firm or legal department to evolve to stay competitive in a changing legal landscape? These new lawyer and leadership literacies can serve as a starting point for thinking about what skills, strategies, and resources you need to develop today.


    1 Terri Mottershead, Introduction: The Survival Imperative – Innovating Through Talent Management in Law Firms, in Innovating Talent Management in Law Firms: Developing Tomorrow’s Legal Workforce 7-89 (Terri Mottershead, ed.) (Washington, DC: National Ass’n for Law Placement 2016).

    2 For more information about Diversity Lab and its Hackathon events, please visit

    3 Patricia K. Gillette, The Mansfield Rule: Making Leadership More Than A Man’s Field, Talent Think Tank, May 31, 2017.

    4 Supra note 1 at 38.

    5 Paula Davis-Laack & Patrick Krill, How and Why to Bring the Lawyer Well-Being “Movement” to Your Law Firm, PD Quarterly, Feb. 2018.

    6 National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being: Creating a Movement to Improve Well-Being in the Legal Profession, Aug. 2017.

    7 Karen Sloan, ABA Passes Measure on Lawyer Substance Abuse and Mental Health,, Feb. 5, 2018.

    8 Heidi K. Gardner, Smart Collaboration: How Professionals & Their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos 3 (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press 2016).

    9 Ann S. Masten, Ordinary Magic: Resilience Processes in Development, 56(3) Am. Psychol. 227-38 (2001).

    10 Spencer Lanoue, IDEO’s 6 Step Human-Centered Design Process: How to Make Things People Want, July 9, 2015.

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