We Need to Start Looking to Replace a Number of Senior Attorneys and Paralegals

I’m a legal manager at a midsize firm. We continue to hire for new positions, but we also need to start now looking to replace a number of senior attorneys and paralegals who will be retiring in a few years. What traits do we look for in legal professional who will become our future leaders? And what should we do if otherwise promising candidates don’t have all those skills? 

Congratulations to your firm for thinking ahead. Too many organizations do not give enough thought tosuccession planning as a top legal practice management priority.

Start by recognizing that leadership abilities, in the legal profession and elsewhere, are both innate and nurtured. The first step for producing future leaders, as you said, is to find people who show potential. But even if you don’t find people in house who are ready for these new roles, you can begin grooming promising candidates now.

First, here are some important traits to look for:

  • Interpersonal skills. To effectively manage a legal team and bring in new business, a leader needs to be a skilled communicator who can get along well with a wide range of personalities.
  • Vision.A good leader can see the big picture, the end goal and the process for getting there. A good candidate would be someone who has a full grasp of — or can learn from a mentor — the firm’s business strategy and current goals.
  • Adaptability. Wise leaders are not set in their ways. And current goals are not set in concrete. To help a law firm grow and succeed, lawyers with true leadership potential can nimbly adapt to changing circumstances.
  • Trust. Effective legal practice management requires that leaders have enough trust in their staff to delegate tasks. They have to be able to convince followers that they can be trusted to make good decisions and take the firm in the right direction.

Many of these traits can be developed in candidates with a willingness to learn. Here are some ways to do so:

  • Involve future leaders in in-housementoring. Mentoring is an excellent way for proven leaders to help potential successors develop their skills. In-house mentoring has the added advantage of ensuring valuable institutional knowledge doesn’t get lost.
  • Step up their continuing legal education.Top leaders don’t have to know every specialized detail of your operation, but they do need a solid understanding of a broad range of legal specialties and what they bring to your organization’s clients.
  • Develop their technical abilities. Technology is a main driver of change in the modern law office, and tomorrow’s leaders need to be comfortable with mobile devices, cloud-based apps, social media and big data.
  • Help them network. Explain to candidates that one of the best ways to cultivate new business, learn leadership skills and stay up-to-date on legal trends is through a broad and deep professional network.

Effective legal practice management requires today’s leaders to prepare for tomorrow. By identifying and developing promising candidates now, you’ll be setting up your firm for success in the years to come.