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7 Ways for Good Lawyers to Become Great Leaders

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on October 09, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

As a lawyer, you're a leader, whether you work in a solo practice, as a first year associate, or partner in a large firm. It's your job to take the lead with clients, support staff, and even the court.

But leadership doesn't always come naturally, even for the most brilliant lawyers. It's a skill that must be practiced, developed. Here are seven ways to switch from being just a good lawyer to becoming a great leader:

1. Take Ownership: A leader has to lead. That means taking ownership of, and responsibility for, the decisions you make and their outcomes. Don't blame bad outcomes on someone else in the firm, the budget, or the workings of the fates -- even when things are actually out of your hands. At the same time, don't be afraid to take credit for decisions that work out. This rule applies whether you're dealing with busted Internet or the outcome of a case.

2. Don't Hide From Conflict: Part of being a good leader is handling difficult situations. You don't need to turn your office into an Amazon-style Fight Club, but make sure politeness and yes men aren't hiding disagreement or preventing open debate.

3. Build a Team That's Smarter Than You: You're only as good, and as smart, as your team. You want your paralegal to catch each and every mistake, your interns to come up with insightful research, your associate counsel to recommend brilliant approaches. Don't worry, you won't be out shone.

4. Interact With Staff: Avoid becoming the "man behind the curtain" -- or the boss locked in the corner office. Too much distance isn't good for leadership. Take quality time to interact with and get to know your staff on an individual level. The more you can understand what makes them tick, the better you can utilize their skills.

5. Innovate -- or at Least Consider Innovations: Leaders plan for the future. Stay up on industry trends, consider legal innovations, and be open to experimentation. Your ambition and energy will rub off on your team.

6. Analyze Mistakes and Successes: Part of planning for the future is understanding the past. Take time to reflect on what goes successfully in your practice and where things go wrong. Make sure you apply those lessons to your future endeavors.

7. Mentor: Good leaders pass their skills on. You don't have to develop a formal mentorship, but having someone to take under your wing can improve the abilities of your team, build loyalty, and make you a better leader.

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