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Law Leadership: How To Be A Good In-house Legal Leader?

Law leadership: how to be a good in-house legal leader?

‘You don’t have to hold a position in order to be a leader’ – Henry Ford

This article has been written to address all levels of the in-house legal community. Whether you’re a junior, mid or senior level legal counsel, 1 year PQE or seasoned general counsel, learning how to be a good leader is a complicated and long process that is evolving constantly. We spend lots of time advising legal counsel on the softer skills they need to have a successful in-house career and so we thought we’d write down our research and opinions.

‘The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have’

 Padmasree Warrior

 

A word map of all of the key words that came up time and again during our research.

 

Once upon a time, a good leader needed skill, strength and a healthy dose of stern to lead a country, an estate, or an army to battle. Now, when we google the question in hopes for a quick solution, words come up like ‘growth mindset’, ‘emotional intelligence’, ‘self-awareness’, ‘agility’, ‘adaptability’, ‘kindness’, ‘trust’.

It is hardly surprising that leadership has evolved when the world has changed so drastically over the past century and especially in the post-pandemic world. Workers and leaders are having to evolve alongside the rise of AI, remote working and flatter hierarchies1. We can no longer rely on a strong skill set to carry us through our careers because the skills we need are changing before we’ve even published our certificate on LinkedIn.

Instead, effective leaders must look inward, understand themselves first, their teams second and replace the dose of stern with a dose of self-awareness and adaptability. Nowhere is this more true than for the GC in a company.

The World Economic Forum has identified resilience, flexibility and agility among the top three most important skills needed for workers and leaders last year.2 

So how can we transform these quasi abstract attributes and view them through actionable points? Can we simply choose to be resilient and agile or is this something with which we are born?

Good news: a good leader can be developed and a great leader is constantly developing.

 

Find the right mentor:

It is estimated that 20% of learning a new job comes through osmosis’3

However,

In 2019, 4.7% of workers worked remotely. 

By 2022, 25% of workers worked from home. 4

In 2022, 63% of in-house lawyers worked hybrid and 24% fully remotely.5

Finding the right mentor has always been key but nowadays, due to the rise in hybrid/remote working, it requires special effort and attention. Hybrid and remote working is greatly reducing the ‘learning on the job’ that occurs simply from being in the office and being surrounded by coworkers. No matter the work model, you have to find the right mentor (whether that be a GC or head of legal in your team or externally), block time in, or supplement this lack of osmosis learning with training or coaching courses that are available. 

While the right mentor will guide you, it is equally important to…

 

…start with yourself: 

 

‘Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power’ – Lao Tzu

 Everyone should spend a little time looking after themselves. Primarily, we need to look after both our mental and physical wellbeing and make sure we’re in the right place before we think to guide and aid others. ‘Just as we’re instructed to put our masks on first, leaders must first take care of themselves before they can care for others’6. Secondly, we need to be self-aware and that means recognising both our strengths and our weaknesses. Once we know ourselves a little better, then we can either focus on leading with our strengths or working on our weaknesses. 

However, knowing thyself is easier said than done and sometimes, even after a 6 month sabbatical to a mindfulness retreat in another country, we are no closer to cracking our corporate core. Life is not always as easy as it seems in ‘Eat Pray Love’. 

In a study examining the daily habits of exceptional leaders it shows that many great leaders engage in the daily ritual of journaling both in the morning and evening, asking themselves who they need to be for others, what is expected of them, and how can they improve from the day before, a reflective to-do list if you will. 

The other common habit in these exceptional leaders was the use of exercise which tended to correlate to the amount of work and stress they had faced that day. Even the Obamas always made sure to have 45 minutes of exercise each morning: ‘The rest of my time will be more productive if you give me my workout time’.8

Furthermore, you can get to know yourself a bit better by 360 degree reviews and receiving feedback from those around you. Self-knowledge may not seem a corporate consideration and ‘journaling’ may just seem more heartbroken teenager than CEO, but simple actions such as these have been shown to have great effect in leaders from all over the world.

Once you can see yourself a little more clearly, it’s time to…

 

…know your team

“Leadership is not a person or a position. It is a complex moral relationship between people based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, and a shared vision of the good.”

– Joanne Ciulla (Author and Educator)

 

When you are leading a team of lawyers you are providing the professional standard and leading by example in your work. The legal profession is very structured. You should know the desires and aspirations of your team, where they are with their PQE, the speed with which they need to progress, the exposure they need.

Leadership and management is all about working collaboratively. Gone are the days of simply telling people what to do. Instead we need to look at work environments like a sports team. As captain, it is your job to motivate, inspire, model correct behaviour and keep an eye on all your teammates. The magic is in the synergy between a team that understands each other and finds that alignment. 

 

Read more

 

1 Ivy House: Modern Leadership

2World Economic Forum, Future of Jobs report 2023

3BBC: The Problem with losing learning through Osmosis

4.Forbes: Remote working statistics

5.Legal Dive: In-house legal remote working

6.Harvard Business Review: Leading a company that can thrive in a chaotic world

7Balance the Grind: Obama’s Daily Routine

 

 

 

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