Partners as leaders: understanding how to lead the lawyers of tomorrow

Friday 12 January 2024

Oya Deniz Kavame 

Kavame Law Firm, Turkiye; Chair, Next Gen Law Working Party, European Regional Forum



Julia Hepner  Client Listening and Relationships Director, MD Communications, London


Mark Longworth  Consultant, Egon Zehnder, London

Alexandra Martins  Partner, Cuatrecases, Lisbon

Vanessa Byrne  Partner and Co-head of Real Estate, Mason Hayes & Curran, Dublin

Partners as leaders: understanding how to lead the lawyers of tomorrow

On 4 October 2023 the European Regional Forum’s Young Lawyers Working Party held a webinar titled 'Partners as leaders: understanding how to lead the lawyers of tomorrow’. During the webinar, moderator Julia Hepner discussed with speakers Mark Longworth, Vanessa Byrne and Alexandra Martins, the subject of how young or current partners can unlock their own leadership skills to generate loyalty and create and develop strong and diverse teams and to retain talents. This article summarises the main takeaways.

The panel discussed the challenge of generating loyalty after the legal sector experienced the so-called ‘great resignation’ as a result of Covid-19, when many lawyers decided to pursue a career outside of the legal sector. Moreover, law firms and their partners are under pressure to manage the impacts of a generational change which revealed increased demand for work-life balance and protection of personal space by young lawyers. The key skills a lawyer as leader needs is a sense of trustworthiness, empathy, care and loyalty. It is important to demonstrate these skills even before one is promoted to partnership. For a leader, it is important to listen and understand other people's needs, gather all available input and make decisions having considered all perspectives. Also, it's crucial to think of how one’s actions are perceived by team members.

The panellists gave valuable insight into the importance of generating loyalty. Loyalty is generated by cohesive teams, by knowing one’s team members and the competition, and further by promoting a positive work culture. Work-life balance, fair compensation and the feeling of being valued, acknowledged and appreciated are key to generating loyalty. A team is an entity itself and it's important to provide honest feedback to team members and to encourage them to believe that they are part of something, that they belong. Showing care as a leader, even outside client-work, motivates team members and is a significant driver for the team to perform well.

In contrast to the old ways, it is vital for a modern leader to be present and to show the human side of leadership. Generating loyalty leads to the adoption of ‘high-trust, low-rules’ environments, in which the creation of trust and focus on delivery give the team members latitude in managing their presence and work-life balance. Generating loyalty is also important for clients as it increases client trust and reliability, and clients appreciate the human connection between lawyers and themselves. In the experience of our panellists, clients are comfortable with the changing environment of law firms because clients also have experience introducing and accepting changing environments within their own organisations.

The role of a partner as leader is also important in terms of succession within law firms and teams. Empowering a young lawyer with a client relationship is an important part of growth and leadership path. Partners as leaders must be attentive, listening to and understanding young lawyers and also clients, since a client behaviour is, it itself, feedback. However, it can never be assumed that the client is wrong or that client is right. It is the responsibility of the partner as leader to be vigilant and engaged; the partner must always calibrate when it is time to intervene and when it is time to stay back. Receiving and giving feedback on young lawyers is also a sign of care by the partner as leader.

The panellists also discussed the topic of leading diverse teams. A diverse team reflects the colours that humanity has. Diversity means different thinking and brings many perspectives into the work of a legal team. Diversity also creates links between colleagues, teams and clients. Clients react very positively to diversity as it shows them the human side of lawyers. Diversity also creates comfort zones for clients - they feel much better in the hands of someone who they know, not only as a professional, but also as a human. In many law firms diversity is still a developing story in its early stages. Yet, over time diversity is being recognised as a great asset and law firms acknowledge that building diverse teams benefit not only the lawyers themselves but also their clients.

A recording of the webinar can be found here.

Starting 2024 the European Regional Forum’s Young Lawyers Working Party is changing its name to 'Next Gen Law'.

Stay tuned, there is more to come!

We look forward to hosting you on our next webinar and/or virtual coffee events.