Leadership: actions and words

Leadership: actions and words

In September and October 2011, our firm conducted a worldwide survey about law firm leadership, as part of our ongoing support of the Law Firm Management Committee of the International Bar Association.  374 lawyers participated, more than half of whom are or have been managing partners of law firms.

My partner, Lisa Walker Johnson, reported the results on 1 November 2011, at the IBA Annual Conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The survey asked respondents to evaluate importance of 23 leadership behaviors. These are the actions that provide motivation for others in the sophisticated and demanding environment of a law firm. Respondents were also asked to identify the five leadership behaviors that were most important in the past and current success of their law firms, as well as the five that would be most important in the next ten years.

There were several intriguing findings from the survey:

  • There was a high degree of agreement among all respondents about the behaviors that were most important to the success of a law firm, with no significant variation by geographic region.
  • There were subtle differences, however, in the perceptions of men and women about the priority of the critical leadership behaviors. Men and women agreed that building client relationships was among the top three critical leadership behaviors. However, a much higher percentage of women viewed this behavior as critical as did the male respondents. They also agreed that ensuring that the firm makes money was a critical behavior, but the response of men on this point was significantly stronger than that of women.
  • There were also some dramatic differences between managing partners and respondents who had never been managing partners about which behaviors needed to change the most in the future. This might suggest that managing partners and others in the firm need to have better communication about the need for behavioral changes among the firm's leaders.

Actions are very important in effective leadership. The most compelling form of leadership, in law firms as in every other human group, is by example. However, the findings of the worldwide leadership survey also remind us that words are important, too. An ongoing discussion of the firm's priorities for change and the changed leadership behaviors that they might require could make the difference between success and disappointing results.

Click here to download a PDF summary of the major findings and implications of the 2011 Walker Clark - IBA Law Firm Management Committee worldwide leadership survey.

Click here to learn more about Walker Clark leadership development services to the legal profession.

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