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Lawyers Leading in the New Decade

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, May 13, 2014

By Shannon Stein, President 

On September 26, 2011 our members benefited from an amazing Leadership Summit. This event brought together the theme of my year as President, which has been: “Essential Skills for Lawyers in the New Decade: Leading Lawyers to Success.”

The Summit began with a presentation and discussion by Robert W. Cullen, who authored the book “The Leading Lawyer, A Guide to Practicing Law and Leadership."

Mr. Cullen spoke about what it means for lawyers to be leaders; how essential it is for lawyers to be leaders in their practice; how important it is for lawyers not just to advocate for their clients but to create opportunities and provide a positive change for clients. He spoke about how in this new knowledge-based economy and because information and experience have become more of a commodity, the critical success factors for businesses and professional service firms are leadership skills comprised of credibility, drive and determination, communication and persuasion, creative thinking, vision, and relationship and team building. He feels that lawyers need these leadership skills in order to successfully navigate their clients through an ever-increasing sea of laws, regulations, and sophisticated business concepts in ways that separate them from the competition.

He went into detail about each of these skills. Credibility is made of three prongs: expertise, integrity, and inspiration. He spoke about how clients expect their lawyers to have the legal knowledge and expertise to provide legal solutions as well as to provide inspiration to their clients. In regards to drive and determination, he stated that lawyers must be able to work hard, and have the capacity to adapt to changing conditions. He stated that lawyers must not just be analytically and technically superior in their fields but must seek to motivate and inspire others in order to further their leadership goals.

Leading lawyers must be able to communicate well. Leading lawyers realize that there are many ways in which to communicate different messages to different people. Leading lawyers will identify the appropriate communication tool and use it in the most persuasive manner in order to implement their vision and accomplish positive change.
Finally, under relationship building, he stated that leading lawyers are able to develop relationships, motivate others and build well-working teams in every environment. He stated that even in stressful situations that leading lawyers build a working relationship with their clients and even with opposing counsel and opposing parties.

He emphasized that all the above skills can be and must be learned within one’s practice or legal organization. He strongly feels that leadership development is the primary element for a competitive future in the legal community. He spoke about how Santa Clara University was the first law school to have a leadership class and now a few other schools including Stanford have a class. He feels that lawyers must learn skills that are not typically taught in law schools: how to communicate and develop a better understanding of our clients, how to approach a problem collaboratively, and creatively, rather than with a solely adversarial approach, how to work well with our associates, peers and even our adversaries, how to utilize teams and how to bring the human element into our practice.
After Mr. Cullen spoke, I then moderated a roundtable discussion with prominent leaders in our legal community: Miguel Marquez, Santa Clara County County Counsel; Mary Greenwood, Santa Clara County Public Defender; Anne Kepner, partner at Needham, Kepner & Fish; Patrick Dunkley, Assistant General Counsel, Stanford University; and Jim Towery, Of Counsel, Rossi, Hamerslough, Reischl & Chuck. All the panel members were inspiring, and provided helpful advice, and shared personal stories of how they obtained their leadership role.
Some of the comments that were made by panel members in discussing how they obtained their leadership role, skills they feel are necessary to become a leading lawyer as well as practical advice for attorneys are:

1) Do what you love. If you do not like your job, you are not going to do a good job for a client.

2) When appearing in court, be prepared and know your case.

3) Your reputation is everything.

4) Be a servant to your community. Volunteer your time with an organization, or do pro bono work. Be active in the bar association.

5) Remember that cases are about your clients. Even if your client is mean and irrational—continue to be professional with your opposing counsel.

6) Work hard- (On a side note, each panel member indicated that they more often than not, do work in the evenings and weekends.)

7) Be a visionary.

8) Be a risk taker.

9) Take time for yourself.

10) Be professional.

The program ended with questions from the audience and networking among attendees. If you would like to view the program, it can be found online in a few weeks in On Line CLE catalogue. You will find it under its title: SCCBA Leadership Summit.

Wishing you a happy fall season.


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