Leadership For Lawyers, Second Edition

This book answers the important question raised by U.S. Judge James Barr. The question is:

I am delving into whether there is support for the hypothesis that leadership skills developed and implemented by individual lawyers (even when not serving in bar organizations) can significantly impact and influence an entire legal community in such areas as (1) improved ethical and civility standards and performance, (2) more effective assimilation of new lawyers into the legal community, and (3) improved relations between bench and bar. In other words, I am at least curious about whether development of leadership skills by individual lawyers can positively impact the quality of lawyering in a legal community — even when working outside the institutional (i.e., bar organization) context.

This book answers Judge Barr’s question in the affirmative.

The second edition of Leadership for Lawyers was published in December 2007. It convincingly makes the case that leadership (and therefore leadership development training and coaching) offers solutions to many of the problems and challenges facing the profession, including high levels of attorney and client dissatisfaction, growing economic pressures on law firms, increasing lack of civility, and outdated law firm governance practices. Rubenstein, who was a trial lawyer for more than twenty-five years, has a good grasp of the challenges and explains clearly how the profession will benefit from widespread leadership development.

The basis premise of Leadership for Lawyers is that “when lawyers and all those who work in the legal profession begin to understand the basic theories of leadership and are better trained in the field of leadership development, they will become better leaders, will provide better legal services, and will create better law firms and legal organizations. As a consequence, the reputation of lawyers and the legal profession as a whole will improve.” The thesis is exhaustively examined and proved throughout the book.

Rubenstein devotes some space to leadership theory and to the relationship between ethics, natural law, and leadership, as well as to how leadership development for lawyers might be structured. Recognizing that leadership theory is such a broad topic that it would be impossible to cover the field in a single book, lawyers who read through the sections on “Leadership Behavioral Styles” and “Ninety Brand of Leadership” will get a taste of leadership theory but not a firm grounding. The bibliography, however, includes a number of classic books on leadership that will provide a deeper understanding of how leaders may develop.

Notably, Rubenstein makes a significant contribution on theory by proposing the “leader of leaders” theory of leadership: “Leaders of followers are mainly problem solvers. Leaders of leaders establish platforms and seek to create an environment so that followers can act as leaders themselves, solve their own problems, and make excellent decisions consistent with the platform that the leader of leaders sets.” This theory, which Rubenstein traces back to the Book of Exodus, should speak to lawyers particularly. It also illustrates the multiple levels of leadership that are present in the profession and that leadership depends on action and attitude, not merely a title.

I don’t agree with everything in the book, of course. The chapter titled Women, Leadership, and the Legal Profession, written by Laura Rothacker, is a good addition to the discussion of women in law overall, but one sentence in it literally (I’m embarrassed to admit) had me screaming out loud in frustration and anger. That sentence is: “Women should be aware that the focus on billable hours represents an institutional form of discrimination against their achieving success and leadership roles.” I’ll address this elsewhere one of these days. Even that assertion, however, doesn’t dim my enthusiasm for Leadership for Lawyers, though it did prompt me to read rather more critically than I might have otherwise.

Leadership for Lawyers is an important book for lawyers seeking ways to grow themselves and other lawyers because it establishes conclusively why leadership matters for lawyers. It should be mandatory reading for law firm managing partners and partners in charge of professional development and highly encouraged reading for other lawyers and law students who aspire to do well in and for the profession and for their clients. I highly recommend it.

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