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Why great lawyers may not be the best managers nor leaders?

By Eve Vlemincx.

A common yet often misunderstood belief persists: the notion that expertise in a specialized field effortlessly translates into effective management and leadership. This is especially prevalent in law, where top lawyers frequently ascend to managerial roles. However, the leap from an exceptional lawyer to a distinguished manager or leader is far from straightforward. The competencies and attributes that distinguish a successful lawyer are substantially different from those necessary for proficient leadership and management.

The lawyer’s craft: Precision, advocacy, and legal excellence

Traditionally, lawyers are trained for precision, analytical depth, and the ability to construct watertight arguments within legal frameworks. This demands intense concentration and a deep understanding of complex legal issues. Lawyers advocate for their clients in often adversarial settings, which fosters a mindset geared towards conflict rather than consensus.

However, the landscape of the legal profession is evolving. Some modern lawyers gain understanding of the importance of emotional intelligence. The ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions, and to empathize with the emotions of clients and colleagues, is finding its entrance. This shift acknowledges that legal issues do not exist in a vacuum but are entwined with human experiences and emotions.

Emotional intelligence can enhance client relations, negotiation tactics, and overall legal strategy, making it a critical skill for the modern lawyer.

Despite this evolution, the core training and focus of lawyers remain distinct from the skillset required for effective management.

Management: A distinct skill set

Management, particularly in a legal context, requires a skill set that extends beyond legal expertise. It involves operational efficiency, resource allocation, and project management. Managers in a law firm or legal department must oversee various functions, from case management to administrative tasks, and ensure that these elements work in tandem to achieve organizational goals.

The essence of management is fundamentally about ensuring that processes, resources, and systems are effectively utilized to meet specific objectives. While emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills are beneficial for managers, the primary focus of management is on the operational and procedural aspects of an organization.

Leadership: Beyond management

Leadership, while encompassing aspects of management, moves into a broader and more strategic realm. It involves setting a vision, inspiring others, and navigating an organization through change and growth. Leadership is less about the mechanics of operations and more about guiding people towards a shared goal, creating a culture of innovation, and fostering an environment where team members feel valued and motivated.

In the legal context, leadership might involve guiding a law firm through industry changes, developing new areas of practice, or fostering a culture that prioritizes both legal excellence and ethical practice.

Bridging the gap for lawyers

The journey from lawyer to manager or leader requires a significant development of new skills and a shift in mindset. Lawyers must expand their focus from individual case success to encompass the broader health of their organization. They must develop skills in leading people, strategic thinking, and operational efficiency. This requires not only professional development but also a personal transformation in how they view their role within the legal profession.

Emotional intelligence, which is becoming more recognized in the legal field, is a cornerstone of this transition. It aids in understanding and motivating team members, resolving conflicts, and building a supportive and collaborative work environment.


The skills that make a great lawyer are not automatically aligned with those required for effective management nor leadership. This misalignment highlights the need for a deliberate and conscious effort to develop new competencies for lawyers aspiring to managerial or leadership roles.

The transition from a legal expert to a successful manager or leader is not just about acquiring new skills; it is about a transformation in perspective—from focusing solely on legal outcomes to embracing the broader dynamics of managing and leading people and processes.

This transformation is crucial not just for the individual lawyer but for the legal profession as a whole, as it evolves to meet the changing dynamics of the modern business and societal landscape. Lawyers who successfully navigate this transition can redefine not only their careers but also contribute significantly to the evolution of leadership within the legal profession.


About the Author Eve Vlemincx is a strategic advisor with expertise in a wide array of areas including legal digital transformation, innovation and leadership. She serves as an advisory council member for Harvard Business Review and is a Course Facilitator at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Eve is highly sought after as a keynote speaker and guest lecturer in various professional settings. Notably, she has been honored as a five-time recipient of the Stanford GSB LEAD Award.

Operating at the dynamic intersection of legal and business, Eve holds certifications from esteemed institutions such as Oxford, Harvard, Kellogg and Stanford Graduate School of Business. Additionally, she brings substantial experience as a seasoned lawyer specializing in corporate law and restructurings.

Eve's guiding philosophy is centered on working smarter, not harder, as she helps individuals and organizations navigate the complexities of today's rapidly evolving landscape.

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apzo media
apzo media
27 de fev.

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Whoopi Goldberg
Whoopi Goldberg
20 de fev.

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