Last Friday, I attended a meeting of about 25 people from around the US (complete list of participants) at Santa Clara University Law to discuss how to teach leadership to lawyers and law students. The law school has a strong commitment to improving lawyer leadership, and their tagline demonstrates that commitment: "Lawyers Who Lead."
Both the formal meeting and the networking outside meeting time were extremely stimulating, and conversations were wide ranging. Lots of topics covered when you get a thoughtful group like this together! One main theme: Presentations and discussions reaffirmed that a lawyer's sharp leadership skills will be increasingly critical. This importance will be both for the individual lawyer's achievement and for that of the profession. The lawyer without leadership skills, and a leadership attitude, will have less autonomy and fewer professional options.
The people in attendance included Paul Lippe, legal profession prognosticator. His talk, entitled "The New Normal," was not unlike this blog post (The Am Law Daily blog) in which he considers law schools and expresses his concerns. In these new times, are they "beached whales" or will they be able to adapt?
On Friday, that question was asked in several different ways and by many people. No one expressed any doubt about the fact that the profession is in a time of "rapid, dramatic, change and evolution" (quoting James G. Leipold, executive director of National Association of Legal Professionals, also in attendance).
Jim believes this change and evolution will continue and that, in law, "the kinds of jobs and how to get them will be very different from the past." Several people said that some law firms and schools wrongly think these times are a temporary blip and normalcy (i.e, the old ways) will return.
Jim also believes the leadership skills of lawyers will be important for success and of "defining value."
He discussed lawyer salaries, referring to this graph [pdf]. In the future, he said, the peak on the right will soften and move to the left and the peak on the left will grow. This prediction indicates how dramatically the profession "has constricted."
Jim said that firms want to hire new lawyers who
- Have the ability to work in groups
- Exhibit leadership
- Are financially literate
- Possess project management skills.
Terri Mottershead, director of professional development at DLA PIper, had much to add. She began by saying that law schools and firms are not ready for the future. A major paradigm shift is occurring, and they are in a
"continuum of denial." A question she has for law schools: "Are we preparing students to lead firms of the 21st century or the 16th century?" She stressed that it is important for lawyer leaders to be "visionary."
She said it is hard to run a multi-billion dollar concern by consensus. She sometimes asks law firm partners if they would invest in a business that, among other factors she listed, was run by people with no management training, was governed by consensus, and had a process by which decisions could be held up by one or two people. When they respond "no," she says, "You already did."
At DLA Piper, lawyers are expected to have four pillars of competence:
- Professional excellence
- Client impact
- Interpersonal and personal effectiveness
- Leadership ability (which includes entrepreneurial skill)
Terri talked about the "new generation" and how, in order to reach them, her firm's training program has been adjusted. Law firm leaders need to know how to lead several generations, including the Millennials. I talked with her at some length about her training program and she has agreed to be interviewed at idealawg about the adjustment. She will also talk about Gen Y's talents, and why a firm that can retain them will benefit.
Both Jim and Terri were asked what law schools can do right now. Jim said schools should let students know the profession is changing, and that they will need business skills. He also recommended exposing law professors and school leadership to law firms and their clients.
Terri recommended that students be taught to think of legal practice as like any other business and to develop business savvy. She also thinks law schools should be telling students "not to be scared" because they are "on the cutting edge of a new industry" which can be exciting.
Larry Richard of Hildebrandt Baker Robbins said that 95% of law firm competencies lists are simply lists. They have no validation. He has observed that typically in firms some partners sit down and create competencies through discussion. Because they are created in this unscientific way, these lists have no predictive statistics and can't be used to recruit.
Enough for today. In a future post, I will continue. Look for part 2 of my report on the 2010 SCU Leadership Education Roundtable. Click to see the whole day's agenda. And click to read some Roundtable materials, including related articles. If you have questions of me about any of the presentations, please feel free to ask.