What Does True Leadership Really Involve

Leadership. We hear the concept all of the time, but what does it really mean? When you get appointed or elected to that huge position, such as managing partner of the law firm, or CEO of a company or legal organization, what does that really entail? What is being a leader really all about?

Over my years of management and leadership of my law firm, and other organizations I have had the opportunity to help lead, I have come to the conclusion that if you want to be a leader instead of just the holder of a position or title, there are several key characteristics or functions:

Envision – The first job of a leader is to envision the future, and to cast that vision to others. Where there is no vision, the firm will perish. That may not have been the belief of most law firm owners of the past; but the fact is that times have changed, and are continually changing, and law firms need to be operated like business organizations. The competitive environment requires visionary leadership.

Engage – Not only must a leader cast and sell a vision for the future to members, but those who hear about that vision need to be engaged by the leader. This involved three main actions:

  1. Equip – Leaders need to make sure that others in the organization are equipped with the tools they need to succeed. For a law firm leader this means not only providing the tools and support that each person needs, but to work to create a culture that that supports each member in his or her efforts on behalf of the firm.
  2. Empower – Leaders need to equip, and then get out of the way. They do this by empowering those on the team or the firm. There is a mix of authority, discipline and maintenance of established values of quality that a leader needs to reinforce in order to move the firm more in the direction of a 21st century team, instead of just a group of autonomous individual practitioners. This mix is the sweet spot where firm members feel supported and empowered.
  3. Encourage – Once those in the firm feel equipped and empowered, true engagement in the firm’s vision will be realized when the leader provides encouragement. This may be a simple private word of thanks or congratulations, or public acknowledgment of success, but it is an integral part of successful engagement.

Evaluate – This is a most difficult, but absolutely necessary, function of effective leadership. Leaders evaluate plans, they evaluate strategies, and they evaluate members on the team. They may evaluate team leaders, or they may evaluate the individual members within the organization, depending on the size of the group. They evaluate to not only punish or reward, but for the purpose of understanding existing firm culture, and supporting appropriate change.

Ensure Existence – Too many people in leadership positions focus quite heavily on the present; managing problems and assuring that the firm has resources to meet current payroll. These are obviously important functions that must be taken care of, however if “the present” is all on the shoulders of the leader, the future is neglected. It is a key duty of the leader to learn how to appropriately delegate so that there is time to plan and execute the future. Therefore every leader must assure that the future is brighter for the firm when he or she leaves the position, than when the leader took the position on.

As I wrote the above, I realized that in some of the above areas I have excelled, and in some I have fallen woefully short over the years (with much learning at the College of Hard Knocks). One thing I did realize however, is that regardless of how I have done in all of these areas, they are considerations for every leader to consider. I wish you well in your endeavor to be an effective servant leader of those in your firm.

ABA Debates Model Regulatory Objectives for Provision of Legal Services

I was a proponent of a resolution in the ABA House of Delegates regarding establishment of regulatory objectives for courts to use in regulation of non-lawyer providers of legal service. As you may know, some legal service providers are not lawyers, and many of these services are provided over the internet. On a daily basis, these services are provided to the public without any regulation. Lawyers are regulated, and the public is protected. Non-lawyer providers are not regulated, and the public is not protected. The debate was between those in the House of Delegates who believed the ABA should lead the discussion in how to regulate these non-lawyers, and those who believed the ABA should instead enforce existing rules to keep non-lawyers from providing legal services at all.

Here are the comments I prepared for presentation in the ABA House of Delegates (that I did not get to present due to a motion to cut off debate and call for the question):

Fact – non-lawyers are providing legal services to members of the public. Those of you who came up with me through YLD in the 90’s remember two very controversial debates on germaneness. Defeated proponents of those resolutions came away feeling that just about anything and everything is germane, and we have multitudes of resolutions over the past 20 years, that most are proud of, to prove it. Based on my stated fact, I can only conclude that opponents have finally found something that’s not germane. Let the regulators deal with it themselves. It’s not the concern of the American Bar Association. We’re not going to help you come up with guidelines to help you should you decide to regulate legal services not being provided by lawyers. We will help regulators and legislators or “urge” them on every other issue under the sun, but not this one.

Collectively, leaders in our profession must be engaged in the conversation regarding changes occurring in legal services delivery. This resolution is a great step in doing so. It provides guidance, and perhaps also indicates that we are not being choked by sand. Some may fear a different slippery slope than I do. What I fear is a slope created by recent unfair and inaccurate, national publicity that possibly led viewers to wrongly conclude that we cannot, or will not, regulate ourselves. It is a slope of increased grade, when the press, viewing this present debate, and assuming we do not pass it, portrays us as turf protectors. The end of the slope may be the conclusion that we are no longer worthy to lead discussions on the future of legal services delivery.

When I speak about what lawyer leadership needs to look like in the future, whether leadership of firms, clients or society, I talk about three main areas of emphasis…greater lawyer resiliency, practice innovation and professional engagement. It is in this area of professional engagement that I have greatest concern. I believe that if we do not pass the resolution, the ability of the ABA to be professionally engaged in the issue of regulation of non-lawyer provision of legal services, which is obviously a reality whether or not we acknowledge it, is in jeopardy.

Lawyer leaders will best be able to lead this discussion, and influence others, if those we desire to lead trust us to do so. Trust after all is what leadership is all about. What looks like self-interest will not foster the kind of trust necessary for our profession to continue to lead the discussion. There are certainly good intentions on the part of those in our profession who desire to protect the public through ways of the past. Regardless, times are changing, and the public craves our leadership. It is the duty of lawyer leaders to transition our efforts away from yesterday’s assumptions, and to collectively take a greater role in what the present, and a future, with non-licensed legal service providers should look like – making sure that the public is protected, even when society, perhaps over our desires or recommendations, allows non-lawyers to provide legal services.

So I wonder: Are we ready to lead through this change that is already upon us?

Here is the text of the Resolution as approved:

RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association adopts the ABA Model Regulatory Objectives 1 for the Provision of Legal Services, dated February,    2016.

ABA Model Regulatory Objectives for the Provision of Legal Service

A. Protection of the public

B. Advancement of the administration of justice and the rule of law

C. Meaningful access to justice and information about the law, legal issues, and the civil and criminal justice systems

D. Transparency regarding the nature and scope of legal services to be provided, the credentials of those who provide them, and the availability of regulatory protections

E. Delivery of affordable and accessible legal services

F. Efficient, competent, and ethical delivery of legal services

G. Protection of privileged and confidential information

H. Independence of professional judgment

I. Accessible civil remedies for negligence and breach of other duties owed, and 16 disciplinary sanctions for misconduct, and advancement of appropriate preventive or wellness programs.

J. Diversity and inclusion among legal services providers and freedom from discrimination for those receiving legal services and in the justice system

FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges that each state’s highest court, and those of each territory and tribe, be guided by the ABA Model Regulatory Objectives for the Provision of Legal Services when they assess the court’s existing regulatory framework and any other regulations they may choose to develop concerning non-traditional legal service providers.

FURTHER RESOLVED, That nothing contained in this Resolution abrogates in any manner existing ABA policy prohibiting non lawyer ownership of law firms or the core values adopted by the House of Delegates.