Leadership and Self-Management

We often discuss leadership as if it is a state or quality that either exists or doesn’t.  But the truth is that whether one seeks to become a leader or whether one is already serving in that capacity, leadership develops over time. 

A leader’s development tends to proceed through three stages.  The first stage is self-management.  The second is individual achievement.  The third is leading others.  Although these three stages are distinct from one another, they may coexist and a leader may move back and forth through these stages at various times.

Today’s discussion focuses on the first stage: self-management or leadership of oneself.  Executive coach Sharon Keys Seal, founder of Coaching Concepts Inc., refers to this stage as “leader in the mirror.”  John Maxwell has written, “[h]e who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk.”  One of the quickest ways to walk alone is to neglect the importance of self-management.  In contract, leaders who have a solid grounding in self-leadership tend to inspire confidence in those whom they seek to lead.

We all have the opportunity to be the “leader in the mirror,” and those who seek to excel individually or to lead others must manage that first leadership challenge.  Self-management underlies individual achievement as well as leadership of others because the two later stages can’t exist (at least not in a mature, lasting form) without some measure of self-leadership.

Think about a talented but undisciplined athlete.  Raw talent and some measure of discipline often allows him to succeed to a point, perhaps through high school or college.  But at some point, the athlete goes down in flames despite his talent and despite a coach or manager or family urging him to do better, thanks to involvement in crime or violence or immature stupidity.  Some of those athletes reform their behavior through self-management, and others become the stereotypical “has been” who revels in past glory but never achieves what he might have.  The road an athlete walks depends not only on his physical talent, but also on the self-discipline he musters when he’s no longer subject to the control of a parent or coach. 

Is the same true for lawyers and other professionals whose talent lies in intellectual capacity?  You bet. 

One who has mastered self-management has developed a strong capacity to manage his or her beneficial and destructive tendencies.  Self-discipline refers to the ability and willingness to buckle down and do what must be done even (perhaps especially) when one would prefer to do something else.  Self-management is a similar attribute, though it also calls for recognition of what must be done in a variety of contexts. 

Self-management prompts a professional to recognize that he or she will be more effective if well rested, properly nourished, and revitalized with physical activity even though he or she might prefer to eat junk food and watch bad TV to “relax” after work.  Self-discipline is what prompts that lawyer to eat a balanced dinner and to go to bed early enough to get adequate rest, and then to get up early enough to take a walk.

A lawyer who knows what research must be done for a client and who completes that research meticulously exhibits self-management.  One who relies on doing just enough or on doing it at the 11th hour has room to grow.

Self-leadership also impacts your clients and business development.  Some lawyers routinely fail to get work product to clients with enough time for their review and input.   That’s a failure in self-management.  It’s also a leadership failure, because it subtly undermines a client’s confidence in the lawyer’s professionalism and abilities.

The fruit of self-management lies in creating the freedom to achieve to the extent of natural and developed ability, not being held back by a self-sabotaging tendency to cut corners, delay, or burn out.

Must a lawyer exhibit flawless self-management to be an effective leader?  No.  The more developed a leader’s capacity for self-management and self-discipline, the more effective a leader is likely to be.  However, each individual is likely to be better in managing certain areas than others.  A leader may be strong in self-management in the use of working hours, but be deficient in setting aside time for his or her own renewal.

How does your self-management rate this week?  (What would those whom you seek to lead say?)  What can you do to improve it, thereby improving your productivity and practice?

Protecting the past?

This image is featured in a Leadership Freak blog post on 5 Strategies to Convince Reluctant Leaders to Move Forward,:

Technology has created (or created the opportunity for) disruption in the way that legal services are delivered. Those disruptions have occurred in modes of communication (such as e-mail, which may create the unspoken expectation of near-instantaneous response), in provision of services (such as document preparation services), in efficiency (such as various forms of automation), and in measurement of efficiency and/or effectiveness (such as large corporations’ use of data to track legal services providers), among others.

If you’re struggling to find how you can respond to these disruptions –whether that means working to overcome them and return to “normal” or working to innovate your own ways of creating value for your clients–check out this post. Let it guide your approach to serving your clients. And keep this in mind: small changes can produce big results, so don’t get wrapped up in the idea that you need to produce innovation on a level with introducing e-mail. You can create the future with small improvements, too.

Where biz dev & leadership meet

I have long believed that being a leader is critical to succeeding in business development. For more on why that’s true, check this 2009 post.

Michael Hyatt’s recent blog post The 5 Marks of Authentic Leadership outlines five key aspects of leadership, which include:

  1. Insight
  2. Initiative
  3. Influence
  4. Impact
  5. Integrity 

While Hyatt’s post does not focus on the intersection of leadership and the ability to generate new business, each of his five marks reflects a capacity that is necessary for successful business development. For example, Hyatt describes a leader’s insight in this way:

Leaders need wisdom and discernment for the present. They need to be able to look at complex situations, gain clarity, and determine a course of action.

This insight is, of course, a foundational skill for success in practice, but it applies equally well to business development. Effective business generation tactics will include a display of this wisdom and discernment whether in person-to-person conversation, in which case the comments will be at least somewhat specific to the potential client, or in an article or presentation, in which case the comments will focus more generally on a specific legal issue or on a particular client profile. Your legal and, where applicable, business insight is valuable for clients and for developing new business.

Read Hyatt’s post and ask yourself whether and how your business development activity reflects each of his 5 Marks of Authentic Leadership. Which do you need to amplify?

Your Leadership Matters

I’ve been struggling with how to address last Friday’s tragedy in Newtown.
 Perhaps you are from the Connecticut area; more likely, you’re a parent from another part of the country or world.  I am neither, and yet last Friday’s events have shaken me to my core.  My thoughts and prayers go out to those directly affected, as well as to those of you who have had to explain what happened and why to children and then to send those children back into the world, knowing that safety may be more illusory than we had imagined.

There’s been much discussion about what we as a society should do in terms of gun control, making treatment more available for the mentally ill, and protecting our children.  This blog isn’t the forum for me to promote the solutions that seem most appropriate to me.  The bottom line for me is, as expressed by Nelson Mandela, “We owe our children — the most vulnerable citizens in any society — a life free from violence and fear.”

As lawyers, we are in a unique position.  We are not “more equal” in any Orwellian sense, but we are often de facto leaders in our communities.  There’s been a great deal of discussion about whether this is the time for mourning or action, but I personally believe that the stakes are so high that the two should not be separated.

Please, use your leadership and your voice to advance the solutions that you think stand the best chance of creating the life our children deserve.  I will be doing the same in my community.  And whether we agree or disagree about the “how” of building a safer society, I believe that the free and open dialogue joined with action will advance that goal.

I wish those of you who will be celebrating Christmas next week a peaceful and joy-filled holiday with those you love.

Want to make more rain? Be a better leader.

Leaders are better rainmakers.
  Bold statement, isn’t it?  But think about it.  Would you easily place your trust in someone who manages a team of worker bees who don’t make much individual contribution – knowing that if the manager goes down, the team will at best miss a few beats?   Or would you select someone who is skilled in assembling a strong team and evoking high performance from its members?


Clients generally hire lawyers, not firms, but clients count on the lawyers to assemble and run the teams necessary to get the business accomplished.  A leader is more likely to walk into a meeting with a prospective client and present not only his or her own professional experience, but also that of the team, complete with discussion of how the team as a whole would function to meet the client’s needs.  There’s a difference between a team leader who counts on the skill and expertise of team members and a legal hotshot who regards the team as merely a supporting cast.  Clients and potential clients (not to mention the team) will sense that difference.


A leader is more likely to show up for a meeting with a client or prospective  client ready to ask questions.   Which is more impressive, someone who talks nonstop about the cases she’s won and the professional accolades she’s received, or someone who asks questions first to determine what’s needed and then offers how her skill and experience would serve to meet those needs?  Which behavior is more characteristic of a leader?


Leaders have the emotional intelligence to establish strong relationships, even when something goes wrong.  Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, legal matters don’t always go the way they “should.”  Juries are notoriously unpredictable, case law changes, and unforeseeable events happen that derail strategies, no matter how carefully planned or executed.  Leaders tend to have the integrity to take responsibility when appropriate, and they have the discernment to focus on how to make things as right as possible under the circumstances.  By handling problems in this way, leaders tend to become trusted advisors rather than hired guns.


What part of your leadership development path is calling for focus so you can also improve your client service and business development skills?  Perhaps it’s your presence, since the way you hold yourself and the way you communicate both verbally and non-verbally can have a dramatic impact on how you’re perceived.  Perhaps it’s your self-management in the areas of time or energy.  Or perhaps you could be a more effective team leader, whether your team is the whole firm, a practice area team, a client matter team, or a project team.  Make the time to improve your leadership skills, and you’ll see client benefits as well.

What’s the difference between leadership and management – and why does it matter?

In listening to conversations about leadership development, I’ve noticed a tendency that at first I attributed to a slip of the tongue. People say things like, “So good management – I mean, leadership – requires [this that and the other].” Some people even suggest that management and leadership are really the same thing and that “leadership” sounds more enticing, so more lawyers (both at the associate and partner/management levels) are willing to play along.

I completely disagree.  Management is an important skill. “Management” derives from the Latin manu “hand” and from the Italian word maneggiare, meaning “to handle.” One who manages defines a goal or adopts a goal defined by someone else, creates a process or an approach to accomplish the goal, and uses rewards and consequences to get team members to do what’s necessary to get there. A manager typically determines how to reach the goal and requires the subordinates to work according to that plan. Often in a law firm, management is a “horizontal” approach, meaning that managers fall into a defined group and those

managers oversee the work of subordinates.

Leadership does bear some similarities to management, especially because leadership may exist in a variety of styles, some of which bear particular resemblance to management. “To lead” derives from the Old English word lædan, meaning to “cause to go with one” and which in turn derives from liðan, “to travel.” One who leads is acting on a goal that has been defined as the organization’s goal, and the attainment of that goal is generally most effective when the members of the organization have mutually adopted the goal. A leader works with the organization’s members to call forth their best efforts to reach the goal and generally leaves some latitude in how the members choose to approach their tasks. Leadership may also be considered as a “vertical” approach, in which a leader works with subordinates to develop their own abilities so that they may ascend to leadership as well.

Much has been written on the distinctions between management and leadership, and I certainly won’t seek to recapitulate that work. However, simply looking at the derivation of the words – “to handle” as opposed to “to cause to go with one” – gives a sense of the differences.

So, what does this mean in practice? Recognizing that management and leadership draw on different skills opens the opportunity to decide which set of skills to apply in any given situation. Under some circumstances, management may be necessary to accomplish a set of tasks quickly and in compliance with a particular expectation, perhaps in pulling together a comprehensive case outline for a status conference. Other situations may benefit from leadership, such as setting the strategy for a matter when a team seeks to accomplish a particular goal for a client and each member may have insights or creative ideas of how to do so.

Test this yourself. For the next couple of weeks, when you’re supervising others in some ways, consider whether management or leadership would be most effective. Make a few notes in your journal or on your computer about the situation, what factors cause you think that management (or leadership) will create the best results, how you choose to manage (or lead), and what results the team realizes. This planning and reflection should take less than 10 minutes total, but the insight you’ll gain will be significant.

(This post was drawn from an article published in this week’s Leadership Matters for Lawyers, a weekly e-newsletter that provides articles and resources designed to boost readers’ leadership abilities and practice. Please click on the box below to view past issues and to subscribe to Leadership Matters to Lawyers.)

View the Leadership Matters for Lawyers ARCHIVE

Email Marketing by Constant Contact®

Wednesday Shorts 3/5/08

I almost titled this post “The Bad Blogger,” because that’s how I feel!  I’ve been away from Atlanta (my primary home) for all but 3 scattered days since mid-January.  I’m accustomed to travel, but doing this much of it all at once is truly a challenge.  One thing I’ve learned is to be a little more gentle with myself on negotiable deadlines, and blogging has fit into that category.  Thus, the unusually random schedule.  I’ve started using a voice-recognition software program recently (unlike just a few years ago, it works quite well!) and so I’ll have more fresh posts appearing soon.

And, I’d like to share a celebration with you: I learned last week that I’ve received the ACC credential (Associate Certified Coach) from the International Coach Federation.  While I’m the first to admit that the path to that credential was nothing like as onerous as getting my license to practice or becoming registered to practice before the Patent Office, it’s a significant accomplishment nonetheless — especially in light of the fact that only about a quarter of ICF members are currently credentialled, and many, many other coaches aren’t ICF members at all.  I know some excellent coaches who aren’t credentialled, so I help certainly don’t intend to cast any aspersions there!  But I’m quite pleased, and happy to share the news with you.  I learned in practice to celebrate at least briefly whenever an opportunity arises, especially since those moments can be awfully fleeting, and I follow that habit today.

Now, on to the legal news!

Leading Big Law Leaders to Lead  That’s the title of a recent article from the New York Lawyer. The article offers a nice overview of some of the leadership training alternatives in which law firms are now investing, ranging from one-on-one coaching to in-hour training to multi-day programs at major universities, including Harvard and the Wharton School.  It raises a few warning bells:

Paul Zwier, a professor at Emory University School of Law [and] author of the book Supervisory and Leadership Skills in the Modern Law Practice (National Institute for Trial Advocacy, 2006), said that in some cases leadership training can serve as an “opium of the masses.”

In other words, what some firms call “leadership training” in reality is a way to get lawyers on board with a firm’s strategy, rather than truly honing leadership skills.

Dubbing it “leadership training” can make participants more willing to sign on to a program and feel more valued if they think that they are recognized as special. However, Zwier said that even lawyers without supervisory duties within a firm need leadership skills, since such skills are necessary in dealing with clients.

And, as recognized by Larry Richard, an attorney and psychologist with Hildebrandt International:

To truly change behavior, training must include much more than a few days at an impressive school, Richard said. He divides programs into two categories: conceptual education and skills-based education. Conceptual education models are the popular “boot-camp” executive programs offered at prestigious schools that use mainly the case-study method. Those programs are valuable, he said, but limited. Attorneys also need long-term training, or skills-based education, to enhance specific leadership behaviors, which are more readily measurable.

I’m a proponent of leadership development work (both training and coaching) for lawyers.  Some might question whether expenditures on such “non-essentials” can be justified, especially in today’s economic climate.  My answer is, not surprisingly, absolutely.  More on why in a future post.

It’s About Time II  The Georgia Association for Women Lawyers released its study of flexible and part-time work arrangements this week, following up on the 2004 initial study.  From the Executive Summary:

Results from this study suggest that it is about time. Few working professionals feel the “time crunch” more acutely than attorneys. Billable hours requirements render the business of law virtually all about time. Should it be any wonder then that the issue of time would weigh so heavily in attorneys’ evaluation of the work they do? Our findings indicate that the availability of flexible and part-time work arrangements is extremely important to male and female attorneys alike. Regardless of whether they themselves plan on taking advantage of such policies, attorneys place a high value on the availability of flexible and/or reduced-time work at their firm. Isn’t it about time that firms recognize that value as well?

Interest in flexible and part-time arrangements is particularly strong among women attorneys. Reduced-time work options are so highly valued that women are willing to exit employment to find more flexible work arrangements. Indeed, firms that provide formal, written policies governing part-time work arrangements enjoy higher retention rates of women lawyers and firms that maintain a successful part-time program reap the rewards of retaining highly satisfied, highly motivated, and highly committed attorneys.

The study is based on surveys completed by 84 Georgia law firms, and the results fall squarely in line with national results: flexible and part-time options are important to lawyers, many firms don’t have written policies to solidify those options, many lawyers are concerned that taking part-time or flex status is a career-limiting move, and there’s evidence to support that concern.

The full report is almost 100 pages long.  The Executive Summary is 3 pages.  It’s well worth a read.

Your personal Board of Directors  I always recommend that lawyers develop a group of mentors.  Did you notice that’s mentors, plural?  Because each mentoring relationship is unique, I find that those who have multiple mentors realize significant benefit.  And mentors need not be in your firm or city (indeed, some mentors absolutely should be “external”) or even in your profession.  Collectively, this group of mentors forms your personal board of directors.  Wondering how to fill all the spots?  Michael Melcher, author of The Creative Lawyer (which is on my list of books to review here) has suggested finding people with 25 attributes and narrowing down the nominees to a group of 6 to 10 “board members.”  Attributes include:

4.    Can give you encouragement in tough times
5.    Can talk to you straight about your weaknesses
20.    Gives good advice about office politics
21.    Gives good advice about professional development
22.    Gives good advice about how to get ahead
23.    Thinks you are great at what you do
24.    Thinks you have great talents other than your present career

Check out the whole list.  You may be surprised.

Does leadership matter for lawyers?

Today marks the release of the first issue of the new twice-monthly e-newsletter, Leadership Matters for LawyersMy conversations with lawyers have revealed deep interest in the topic of leadership.  Law firms have initiated leadership development programs and bar associations have instituted Leadership Academies.  Attorneys are reading (and writing) books that address how leaders are made.  Lawyers in private practice often aspire to be leaders – perhaps by becoming managing partner of the firm or being named to the executive committee.  But is leadership development just another box to tick for the “average” lawyer, another drain on precious non-billable time?

I hold that leadership reflects action rather than a title and that the action of leading is intrinsic to the profession.  Lawyers lead in their practices, through business development, and in numerous other ways.  Leadership capacity is directly tied to success and satisfaction in practice, so smart lawyers spend time and energy in developing their skills.  The first step on the leadership development path lies in revealing the many dimensions of leadership, which opens opportunities for a leader’s growth.  And it’s that conversation where we begin by asking the question: Does Leadership Matter for Lawyers? 

It’s a fair question, and a good place to start off with the Leadership Matters for Lawyers newsletter series of articles.  After all, if leadership doesn’t matter, there’s no point in spending valuable time reading (or writing) on this topic. 

The truth is, leadership absolutely matters to lawyers, and it matters on several levels.  We’ll begin by identifying these levels, and future articles will address them with greater depth. 

Internal Leadership

Internal leadership matters for lawyers as the basis of individual success and as the foundation of advancement within any kind of organization.  “Nothing so conclusively proves a man’s ability to lead others as what he does from day to day to lead himself.” (Thomas Watson, Sr., former IBM president from 1914-1956.)  The capacity to lead begins with discipline and the ability to set and execute plans with integrity.  Leadership is based in vision; the process of bringing a vision into reality requires great discipline.  “Do as I say, not as I do” usually doesn’t hold water with children, and it certainly isn’t a platform that will inspire others to follow.  Leadership matters to lawyers in developing the discipline necessary to succeed on a personal level. 

Leadership as a Skilled Practitioner or Rainmaker

A similar leadership concern also exists when a lawyer strives to develop competency and then excellence as a practitioner or a rainmaker.  Such a level of development requires great internal discipline and also implies some measure of leadership of others, as with a trial lawyer who’s learned how to lead a jury to follow her logic and return a verdict for client.  Becoming a “leading attorney” in a substantive area or in bringing clients to a practice requires competency in leadership skills. 

Team Leadership

Leadership also matters to lawyers on the team level in the workplace.  We tend to think of law firm leaders as being practice group leaders, managing partners, partners in charge of an office in a multi-office firm, and so on.  But every lawyer who is in charge of a team of any description is a leader and must exhibit leadership abilities to be effective, whether that person is a partner in charge of a team of lawyers working on a particular client matter or a first-year associate who’s heading up a team of paralegals doing document review.  

Leadership in the Community

Consider our society and the roles that some lawyers choose to play in it.  Those who become members of boards, who serve on community committees, or who become involved in politics must possess leadership abilities.  Those who succeed and advance in politics must be master leaders to be effective. 

Leadership to Effect Change

Finally, those who seek to effect change through any kind of grassroots campaign must possess leadership skills — not just the “leaders” in name, but those who canvas door-to-door to find support for the cause, those who speak at rallies or before Congress, those who write persuasively.  Certainly, not all lawyers engage in these activities, but some do.  Leadership matters for those lawyers. 

Why Does Leadership Matter to You?

So, consider your own life, your practice, your goals and desires.  In what way are you currently serving as a leader, using these broad definitions?  Whom are you intending to lead?  Whom are you “supposed” to lead?  What value do you find in assuming a leadership role? 

Future issues of Leadership Matters for Lawyers will probe leadership skills, how to develop those skills, and how doing so will enhance your practice. 

Letter to a young lawyer

Some months ago, Stephanie West Allen requested that fellow bloggers write a “letter to a young lawyer.”  Susan Carter Liebel has recently renewed the request  and I am delighted to join in, at last.

To the new attorney:

Welcome to the practice!  You’ve learned much over the last three years of law school, and you may be somewhat dismayed to discover that your learning is just beginning.  It’s a cliche to say that law school merely teaches you to think like a lawyer, but you’re about to find that there’s quite a bit of truth there.

I’d like to offer you a roadmap of sorts… A short list of foundations that underlie a successful practice.  Think of these as guideposts.

1.  Each time a client entrusts you with a matter, you’ve been granted a sacred trust.  You will have hundreds of clients — perhaps thousands — over the course of your career.  Some may be sophisticated legal consumers, but others will bring to you the only legal matter they’ve ever had.  Whichever camp your client falls into, it is your responsibility to treat the matter as if it’s the most important matter this client will ever have.  That isn’t to say that each client should in effect run your practice (you’d never get anything done), but when a client trusts you enough to request your representation, be aware and respectful of the trust… And earn it.

2.  Remember that the other lawyers in your firm who ask you to do work are your clients.  Act accordingly.

3.  It’s called legal “practice” for a reason.  You’re bright and accomplished, and you’re accustomed to knowing it all.  You’re about to enter a phase in your life in which you’re likely to feel that you know very little.  It’s your opportunity to practice the skills you learned in school, to read the law and to think deeply about it.  You’re going to make mistakes, no doubt.  It’s your duty to learn from each mistake and to make each one only once.  Ask intelligent questions and study the lawyers you admire.  A mentor is invaluable, and here’s a secret: your mentor will learn as much from you as you learn from your mentor.

4.  Begin your business development activities now.  Especially when you’re just beginning to practice, when you know so little about how the law really functions, it’s hard to imagine that you’re going to be responsible for bringing clients in.  Whether that need arises immediately (as of course it will if you’re a sole practitioner) or in a matters of years, you need to lay the groundwork today.  Keep up with your classmates from college and law school.  They may be at the bottom of a corporate rung today, but they (like you) will advance, and the confidence they develop in you over time will position you well to turn a social relationship into a business relationship.  The best marketing flows from superior legal skills plus masterful interpersonal relationships.  Remember that you need to develop both.

5.  Set goals for your career and adjust as appropriate.  Two errors plague lawyers: advancing in practice without having a plan and sticking to a plan even after it’s quit being the right plan.  Spend time determining what you want your life to look like both professionally and personally.  That knowledge will guide your steps as you decide where to practice, whether to stay there or leave, whether to pursue or accept a partnership offer, and much more.  However, be sure that the plan you’re following really fits you.  There’s little worse than climbing to the top of the ladder only to discover that you’ve scaled the wrong wall.

6.  Develop your leadership skills — you’re going to need them.  You may not view yourself as a leader right now, but you’re going to find yourself in a leadership role sooner than you recognize.  Learn how to discipline yourself, how to communicate what’s right, how to stick to your vision and to motivate others to join in the effort, how to convey your presence as a leader.  You’re going to find yourself on a board, in a courtroom, leading a team of lawyers, or bringing your legal skill to a matter of importance in your community.  Learn how a leader behaves and seek opportunities to practice.

7.  Integrate your personal and professional aspects.  You will be most effective in the office when you’re rested and the demands of your personal life are sufficiently met.  It’s unrealistic to imagine that you will always be able to meet those standards, but you must strive to do so.  “Work/life balance” doesn’t mean dividing your time or energy 50/50: it means knowing how to devote your time and attention where you need to, when you need to, according to your values.  Sometimes you’ll have to disappoint friends or family, and sometimes you’ll have to disappoint colleagues or clients.  Learn how to balance competing demands to wring the most out of every moment you have, without wringing yourself out.

8.  Give back.  You may feel overwhelmed when you think of the debt you’ve accumulated while pursuing your degrees.  Never forget that you’re among the most privileged people in the world, whether you’re at the highest paid law firm or the lowest paid public service agency.  Find ways to contribute to your profession and to society.  You will be richer for all you give.

There’s much more to say and learn… And you’re in for the ride of your life.  Welcome to practice!  Go as far and as fast as you can, in service to your clients, your community, your profession, and yourself and your family.

“Managing up” in law firms

One of the interesting things about practicing law is that, until relatively recently, little discussion occurred about how to advance in practice beyond becoming a top-notch practitioner.  While I have no doubt that other skills  have always been required (the ability to communicate well, to lead well, etc.), it’s quite clear to me that more is needed now.  Client development skills, certainly, but also the desire to advance as a professional and as a key member of a team, whether that team is staffing a case or running an office/firm.  And “managing up,” a concept discussed with respect to corporate careers but rarely so in law firms, is a first step.

I’ll start by defining “managing up” as the strategies and skills that a more junior attorney can apply to develop a strong working and collegial relationship with more senior lawyers.  This isn’t a concept limited to associates or to new lawyers, though; it’s something that any lawyer working with a supervising attorney should consider — even if the supervising lawyer is, for some reason, less senior.  You’ll recognize some of the aspects of “managing up” as skills and strategies that smart lawyers develop and use.  My hope is that by using the term “managing up” to encapsulate them, one concept can be used to describe quickly a variety of behaviors and considerations.

Many books and articles have been written on managing up, so it would be impossible for me to write a blog post that would approach the subject fully.  So, I’ll address it on a conceptual level, with some concrete ideas and suggestions, and perhaps flesh it out further over time.

When considering how to “manage up,” one question rises above all others: what will be most helpful in this situation to the supervising lawyer?  And that question breaks down into a number of sub-questions, such as:

*  What will best serve the client?
*  What is the client’s ultimate goal?  Think beyond the immediate to what really matters for this client.
*  What best serves the supervising lawyer’s style?
*  What does the supervising lawyer really need, and will the client pay for that?  If not, how can you adapt?
*  What does the supervising lawyer need to know?
*  How can I advance what the supervising attorney is trying to accomplish?
*  What can I do to best contribute to this team in a way that the supervising lawyer will appreciate?

For example, a litigation client’s ultimate goal is to protect its legal interest while doing minimal damage to an important business relationship, that client will likely approach the litigation differently than if the goal is to cause maximum pain to the other party.  To serve the client, and also to serve the supervising lawyer, most effectively, you need to know about the ultimate goal as well as the immediate goal of winning the litigation, and you need to know at what point the supervising lawyer will be acting from the primary motivation of each goal.  Similarly (and I expect every lawyer will already know this), it’s important when drafting a letter for a supervising lawyer’s signature to write the letter in her style, not yours — and to discover that style by checking previous letters she’s written or  by asking her assistant.

A good, quick rundown of “managing up” strategies is found in the table of contents for a book titled Managing Up.  I can’t vouch for the book (I haven’t read it), but I like some of  the chapter titles.

So, questions for you to consider: how might you manage up?  What would be appropriate methods of doing so?  And how might you advance by taking these steps?