Law Firm Articles

Leadership Effectiveness 2018

What one recommendation would you give to leaders to be more effective in their leadership roles in 2018?

Altman Weil consultants offer their insights…


You need to begin. Studying or debating something until you remove all risk and resistance is a fatal mistake. Innovation and business model changes are hard. There are no fool proof road maps. You just begin – exercise your curiosity, experiment, learn, adapt and keep moving forward.
Jim Cotterman

Look forward

Senior leaders in law firms are uniquely challenged with dual roles that encompass managerial and leadership duties. This requires leaders to make choices about where their time is best and most effectively spent. In this rapidly changing marketplace, leaders must first focus on being forward-looking and doing more to lead than to manage.

As leaders begin 2018, they should ask themselves these questions:

  • Am I encouraging and facilitating a forward-looking culture among the partnership? What am I doing specifically?  What should I do?
  • Am I infusing our partnership with the necessary urgency to address market change? What can I do?
  • Are we proactively increasing our client value proposition or simply responding to client demands?
  • Am I delegating enough? How can I shed managerial responsibilities, to focus on forward-looking leadership initiatives that will increase our market competitiveness?

The answers to these questions should lead to a candid discussion with your senior leadership group with the aim of identifying two or three urgent and important initiatives for the upcoming year.
— Tom Clay

Build from strength

Law firm leaders at all levels should take some time to identify firm and practice group strengths.  Often leaders focus only on areas that need improvement or areas of concern and, in doing so, forget or take for granted critically important attributes that have been central to their success thus far.  Those strengths can be foundational for future successes. If your external environment or internal capabilities are changing, those strengths may require reinforcement, modification, or fine-tuning in order to remain effective.

Systematically develop a list of strengths by category for the firm and each practice group. Your categories might include: client base, practice economics, profit drivers, expertise and experience, marketing programs, associate programs, technology and market position.  Reflect on how you have used and built on these strengths in the past, and how they can be further leveraged and enhanced going forward.  Begin developing concrete plans and share them with your management and leadership colleagues for their input and ideas.
— Alan Olson

Keep a focus on strategic goals

The first priority of Managing Partners and Practice Group Leaders should be the achievement of strategic goals. That means knowing what the goals are, owning them, communicating them, keeping them front of mind, and making them happen.

Too many Management Committee meetings and practice group meetings get eaten up by less important agenda items. Too many lawyers tell me they have no idea what their group’s goals are or what the firm is trying to accomplish. Leaders and goal champions get busy with other things. There are always distractions and competing priorities. But the goals won’t accomplish themselves – someone has to drive them, and ultimately that someone is you.
— Eric Seeger

Be guided by four principles

Leadership experts and researchers Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner identified the characteristics of admired leaders in their definitive book, The Leadership Challenge.  Law firm leaders should pay close attention to these characteristics and let them drive behavior.

Admired leaders are:


The importance of this characteristic is above and beyond all others.  As a leader, remember that all relationships, personal and professional, are based on trust.  Once lost, trust is very hard to regain.

Forward Looking

Members of your firm want to know that their leader is thinking about the future – painting a picture of what a successful firm will look like.  This does not mean that you must be a visionary. It’s the ability to set the course for the future that is key.


Leaders should not be focused on what the firm does and how it is done – that is the work of managers.  A true leader should help people understand the “why” of what they do.  Your passion for the future and the organization’s purpose and mission should be inspirational.


All leaders must be seen as capable and effective, demonstrating a deep understanding of the business, before making organizational changes and decisions.

Although leadership literature describes a multitude of other important leadership traits, these four proven characteristics stand out and will serve any leader well.
— Dan DiLucchio

Ensure the stability of your team

Firms and their administrative leadership both will benefit from ensuring that executive-level business managers (i.e., Executive Directors, COOs, CFOs) have employment contracts in place. From the firm’s perspective, there is stiff competition for top-notch administrators and the labor market is active and volatile. From the administrator’s point of view, even superior performance can’t guarantee job security if, for example, firms merge and executive jobs at the combined firm are cut in half.

Firms can structure employment agreements that can discourage premature departures.  Administrators can insist on protection that gives them the ability, and the time, to locate new opportunities. Win-win employment agreements can bring needed stability to both law firm employers and their executive-level business managers.
Jim Wilber

Know when to make a stand

Recognize and act on sexual harassment.
Rees Morrison