There is no time like the present to ensure you have the right business services leadership in place.

Law firms have not been immune to what other industries are facing including staff reductions, casework and deals coming to a halt, and being forced into unknown territory such as remote working and internal reorganizing.

It is critical to identify and assess who is making these turning point decisions in your firm and if you recognize your firm does not have the right operational leader (such as a Chief Operating Officer, Chief Executive Officer, Executive Director, or Director of Administration) in place it may be appropriate to invest in this essential role as these individuals can be a significant asset and value add. Having the opportunity to work closely with and place various individuals in law firm leadership roles there are several characteristics that bear true among them. These qualities include grit, communication skills, embracing ambiguity, high EQ, and a diverse background and skillset.

1. Grit

A leadership role in a law firm requires an ability to demonstrate grit. An ability to get things done no matter the size and scope of the project is key to success. It is a trait that I have termed as the “stick-with-it-ness” quality. We all know that law firms are not easy environments and exhibiting a level of persistence will go a long way in moving your firm forward.

2. Communication Skills

Communication skills are paramount for a law firm leader. Not only does one need to be highly responsive to ongoing needs throughout the firm, but also proficient in communicating at all levels. This means succinctly conveying information to attorneys who may have less time to take in information while also skillfully digesting information to be shared with the firm at-large.

3. Embracing ambiguity

I firmly believe that there is a difference between simply being comfortable, or tolerating, ambiguity and embracing it. The only certainty in the world is change. If a leader is uncomfortable with change and ambiguity and unable to bounce back from obstacles or external factors, then there may be a lack of emotional agility coupled with an inability to remain adaptable. A strong leader can champion changes with a solutions-oriented approach while exhibiting personal resiliency in addition to achieving organizational resiliency.

4. High EQ

For effective law firm leaders, it is necessary to possess high emotional intelligence (EQ) which can be cultivated over time. Although EQ has been proven to achieve positive results in the workplace it can be hard to identify these intangible traits during an interview. A person demonstrating high EQ will be able to balance both strategic and realistic goals and priorities (or have the capacity to “see the forest through the trees”). This includes putting clarity around a vision and providing a structure and plan to implement it. It requires leading with compassion by exhibiting social awareness and understanding the emotions of others. Furthermore, it embodies the ability to build consensus through active listening and letting go of one’s ego to achieve this. With that, a law firm leader should possess the awareness and ability to manage one’s self while simultaneously managing up. The skill to effectively lead oneself, and the self-awareness that comes with it, is vital before leading others.

5. Diverse Background and Skillset

Law firm leaders must have competencies in a wide range of areas from human resources, finance, executive leadership, people management, along with operations. While a law firm leader can be homegrown working in legal for the majority of their career, it can prove beneficial to have had experience in other industries to develop a holistic understanding of leadership and operations. This “outsider” experience can shed light on alternatives for problem solving and increase general awareness for operating effectively or like a business. Law firms should not shy away from potential leaders due to a diverse background as this can frequently translate into a law firm environment and bring on skills that are a beneficial.


Identifying your next law firm leader is more imperative than ever as we are all experiencing a new way of working. Identifying the right person for a law firm leadership role will influence how you emerge amidst this or any crisis. However, if your firm is enthusiastic or satisfied with your current business services leadeship but are experiencing unprecedented change internally, Calibrate Legal is capable of working with firm leadership on customized change management courses to ensure successful implementation and adoption to weather any storm and come out stronger.

In addition, Calibrate Legal is well equipped to take your firm to the next level in identifying your new law firm leader with our adept capabilities in search and partnering with law firms to identify top talent to ensure success for years to come.


Author Jenny Schwope is a Recruiting Manager with Calibrate Legal.

Related Calibrate Legal Insights

Six Steps for Law Firms Looking to Improve Their Culture

| Articles, Being a Leader, Future of the Legal Profession, Leadership and Talent | No Comments
Changing a law firm's culture is surely not an easy task.  Calibrate CEO Jennifer Johnson and Pillsbury CHRO Kathleen Pearson…

The Currency of Trust in the Workplace

| Being a Leader | No Comments
There is an urgency in today’s world that defies the notion of patience as a virtue. When so much is…

How to Maintain Culture in a Virtual Environment

| Being a Leader, Change Management, Leadership and Talent | No Comments
How can you hold on to what's good about your firm's culture when people are working virtually?  Calibrate Legal alliance…

A Business Case for Stay Interviews

| Being a Leader, Building a Team, Executive Search | No Comments
Stay interview: A way for law firm leaders and managers to directly solicit feedback from their most talented people on their…