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16 August 2016

Moving On Up: What Firms Look For When Recruiting Leaders

Published on 16 August 2016
How do you distinguish yourself as a promising potential partner? What traits do firms look for when recruiting their future leaders?

Insights spoke to Specialist Director and Management Consultant, Mary Hockaday to find out what law firms are looking for and how lawyers can skill up as leaders. Hockaday has over 20 years’ experience advising law firms, is Director of Education, Learning & Development for the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA) and a College of Law Lecturer and Course Facilitator for the College’s Legal Practice Management Course.

“Some of the key factors over and above the requisite financial, role responsibilities and accountabilities and other KPIs considered for promotions, are contributions to the firm’s growth and success through developing a client base, working on other team projects or offering to take on a difficult task that may take you outside of your comfort zone,” Hockaday observed.

“Building trust with your colleagues and at times being the ‘go to’ person to resolve problems is also career accelerating,” advised Hockaday. “A positive, motivated attitude when faced with challenges, embracing opportunities, being reliable and demonstrating behaviours that align with the firm’s cultural framework” will be noticed.

Firms also look for lawyers who demonstrate interest in the firm’s business strategy and operations, said Hockaday. “Offering solutions to either innovate or improve efficiencies or reduce cost are very worthwhile. At times, some of the best lean innovation or business process improvement ideas come from employees at the coal face in the business.”

Lawyers looking to be leaders need more than expert technical skills, sufficient experience and competence in their job. Most critical to successfully recruiting for a senior role, said Hockaday, is the right cultural and attitude fit.

Hockaday believes leadership should be demonstrated by everyone at every level in the business.

“Empowering employees in their roles encourages leadership capabilities,” said Hockaday. “Leadership development should be considered from two perspectives. One is self-leadership – knowing your own style, being mindful and considerate of those in your team, being authentic, taking effective and efficient control of delegation and supervision, listening, communicating, and having an open door policy. The other is learning about other leadership styles and being able to recognise the different styles within the firm when leading teams, projects, collaborating across the firm or externally with clients.

“The servant-leadership style is one that everyone, including the leader, works towards the vision or goal collaboratively,” Hockaday said.

Hockaday advises planning ahead if you’re a lawyer looking to move up the firm ladder.

“What post-graduate qualifications do you need to undertake?  What stage should you be factoring these into your career path plan?  Have regular conversations with your partner/supervisor or HR about your career and the direction it needs to take,” said Hockaday. “Don’t be hesitant about having these conversations. If you do, you may be missing out on opportunities due to lack of communication.”

While it’s rewarding to be recognised for your skills, competencies and experience through a promotion, Hockaday urges lawyers to ask themselves, will those skills take them to the next step they’re seeking?

“The short answer is yes, they will certainly provide you with a great foundation,” Hockaday said. “However, advancing your career requires you to look more broadly. It is important you identify what new skills, behaviours, and attributes to develop for your new leadership role.

“Excellent technical skills are a given but have you developed strong professional skills (often referred to as ‘soft skills’) essential to succeed in the role? I like to call them ‘personal development’ skills because at times there is nothing soft about them!”