Q:

Are lawyers adequately educated and professionally developed to provide leadership ("positive social influence") during health emergencies like COVID-19?

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David Delaney
Law Office of David G. Delaney, PLLC
01 Apr 2020

A: SenseCheck

  • 1 Yes
  • 1 Unclear
  • 3 No
SenseCheck complexity

Newest Answer Oldest Answer

  • 04 Apr 2020
  • No

    Complex

    On the whole, I would suggest that lawyers do not receive adequate training around developing their leadership skills and qualities. I think the various law societies have done a much better job recently ensuring that lawyers are armed with at least basic management skills but, as most people will appreciate, there is a huge difference between managing a team during the good times and leading a team during the bad times.

    That said, whilst the education and professional development could certainly be improved, I would also suggest that a large number of lawyers are actually very good at leading during these difficult times. There are many reasons for this, but two I would highlight:

    (1) Lawyers who are true strategic advisors to their clients often spend large portions of their time 'leading' that client through difficult times. The best lawyers develop empathy, sound critical thinking and the ability to inspire their client to make the right but difficult choice. Those skills are extremely transferable to leading a law firm during this difficult time.

    (2) Some people (and there are a fair number in the legal community, contrary to popular belief!) are natural born leaders, who inherently know how to step up and guide the team during troubled times.

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    Guy Adams
    Intapp

  • Comment

  • 04 Apr 2020
  • No

    Very Complex

    Leadership skills are not billable by the hour and therefore not sufficiently valued during legal training & law school and at times of promotion in-house, and out.

  • Comment

  • 04 Apr 2020
  • Comment

  • 02 Apr 2020
  • Yes

    Simple

    Well, in one respect, lawyers are absolutely not educated or trained to provide leadership in a situation like this. I mean, we're barely able to provide leadership when it comes to dividing up the year's profits among the partners. Both by natural inclination and the historic weight of a culture of independence and control, we don't like being led and we don't like leading others. We rate very high on autonomy and very low on sociability relative to the overall population (cf. Dr. Larry Richard). There's a reason half of all lawyers are in sole practice, and it's not because solos are richer than BigLaw practitioners.

    And I suppose I need hardly add that neither law school nor the licensing process nor the first hard years of practice provide us with any formal professional development on leadership. Try getting CLE credit for a leadership course -- you find out pretty quick that whatever our bar leaders like to say about leadership, they're not willing to incentivize it as an everyday lawyer skill.

    But in two other respects, I actually do think that lawyers are equipped to lead during a crisis. One is that lawyers, for all of our other personality quirks and fault lines, have one great redeeming quality: our pragmatism. Lawyers are great at navigating rules and procedures, figuring out what has to be done in a given situation, and getting after it. We are box-checkers extraordinaire, and there's a real value, in times of high emotion and impulsive behaviour, in identifying the people who are good at just relentlessly and painstakingly getting the job done. Those are the people, calm in the storm, who other people gravitate towards and follow. We might not lead by oratory and we surely don't lead by charm, but I do think we lead by competence, reliability, and practicality.

    The other respect in which we can lead right now is best expressed in a terrific article at Legal Evolution by Navy JAG Counsel Geoff Gillespie (https://www.legalevolution.org/2020/03/milit…), which I recommend for all lawyers. This excerpt says it best:

    "Everybody’s a leader now. Against the steep curve of the coronavirus pandemic, each of our actions will have an outsized impact on our organizations and communities. Legal leaders’ analytical thinking and communication skills can be tremendous assets to manage stress and combat uncertainty. It’s time to accept our new reality, and move into action. "

  • Comment

  • 02 Apr 2020
  • No

    Complex

    Lawyers are businesses like any other except their willingness to not get paid tends to extend only to those who can't afford it, and even then in relatively isolated cases. In countrywide situations like a pandemic individual lawyers may be motivated to offer free executry work or will drafting, but I seriously doubt enough of them will do so to make a positive social influence. Besides, whilst leadership comes in many shapes and guises and whilst lawyers are typically very strong on self-leadership (e.g. high boredom thresholds and willingness to work very long hours) they're not exactly known for their selflessness. Businesses have been falling over each other in an effort to be seen to be the most empathetic during the current crisis but the response from the legal profession has simply been BAU - "we know a lot, look at how useful our materials are, now please instruct us".

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    Adrian Smith
    The Senate

  • Comment

  • 02 Apr 2020
  • No

    Complex

    Leadership training as a lawyer is a scarce commodity. The structure of law firms as partnerships and the need to constantly bill and fee-earn limits the ability of lawyers to develop the necessary leadership skills. Many lawyers manage only a few people if any, they rarely get leadership training unless high on the partnership track, training is mostly focussed on technical learning and the soft skills get left behind. Add to that (generalisation here) often poorly developed empathy and a binary analytical focus, leadership and management outcomes are often poor. Law firms are also not necessarily financially secure for an event like this and we have already seen a wave of reaction from firms around the world. As knowledge workers, they will first trim and control headcount, then rebuild later - we saw it in the 90s / early 2000s / financial crisis. I hope this time they will do better but so far although we have seen manufacturing companies step us, silence from the law firms, yet we all know that this is going to threaten law and order and social justice. See Jordan's piece yesterday: https://www.law21.ca/2020/04/pandemic-i-what…. This is a crisis and I don't think the lawyers are match fit for it. I wish they were. Tagging Jordan Furlong and Ciarán Fenton on this one. Great question.

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    Rachel Amos
    The Senate

  • Comment