Legal Ops Essentials: What does good legal team leadership look like

2 min • 30 Aug 23


Leadership has always been a complicated field and as such it really needs to be hit hard with the “bat of simplicity”. 

So, in 10 short points, here are what we believe the core features/attributes of effective in-house legal department (“IHL”) leadership are: 

  1.   Technically Excellent: lawyers struggle to follow leaders who are not very good at law. Leaders who are simply “legal managers” are rarely ever truly respected. IHL leaders must be evidently really good at some aspect of technical practice and remain so. 
  2.   Genuinely Curious: a great leader is genuinely curious about new and more effective ways of operating. This is a vital attribute in an industry where workloads routinely outstrip the resources available to perform the work. Refusing to change how you operate can mean falling behind. 
  3.   Risk Taker: all business dealings involve risk – effective legal team leadership understands this and can live with it. In an industry that is often paralyzed by its inability to “live with risk” – this is a differentiating and empowering skill. 
  4.   Brilliant Delegator: the best leaders are exceptional at delegating to their team and to processes, as part of an overall force multiplying strategy. Micromanagement is generally the currency of leaders who are insecure about their team or their team’s ability to deliver. 
  5.   Thick Skinned: the IHL leaders’ skin must be tough but it must never look haggard. All too frequently what is right/or needed by the legal team is not delivered by the decisions of the business. Good leaders have skins that are thick enough to enable them to accept this – whilst they adapt, make do and keep moving forward without missing a step - they are indefatigable.
  6.   Accountable: accountability underpins the ability of the Business to have confidence in the legal function and its leader. A strong leader is always accountable. If their team messes up – they do not duck the blame – they acknowledge, they fix and they move forward. 
  7.   Principled & Loyal: a good leader espouses strong ethics and is loyal to their team, to the internal client, to the Business and to their families. The best in-house leaders are the ones who are universally seen as always on the side of what is right, not what is expedient or politically vogue. 
  8.   Open Minded: high-performance leaders are open minded to change – and are receptive to exploring new ideas. In addition, they also have the ability to recognize that the legal function’s view of the world is but one perspective. They recognize and accept that they do not always have to “win the day”.  
  9.  Always Improving: good leaders are committed to continuously upgrading their performance and the performance of their team. Their perennial objective is better, faster, cheaper and safer. They recognize that continually improving performance is one of the best means of accommodating constant change and retaining talent. 
  10.  Tough: a good IHL leader needs to be capable of digging in their heels and being a force to reckon with – whether in dealings with the Board, counterparties, or team members. Weakness is never respected.

What we were looking for in this list was the “rubber hits the road” attributes that in-house legal team members and internal clients genuinely revere and respond to. 

It might have been easier to write a more sanitized,  “corporate friendly” list of features such as inclusive, respectful, empathy, understanding, etc. 

However, as we exist at the centre of a community of more than 20,000 in-house lawyers, we know that whilst such attributes have their place on the overall spectrum of essential leadership skills, they do not represent tangible reasons as to why a:

  • Business would hire you to be its General Counsel; or 
  • person would join and remain working in your legal team. 

Legal team leadership is often a tough, grindy and uncompromising affair, and the skills that can make you effective are rarely glamourous. But like anything, these are skills that can be learnt and improved upon through consistent effort and application.

If you would like to learn more in-house legal team performance and leadership insights – please do join the GLS Legal Operations Community 



Please check out the GLS solutions and know-how resources listed on the right side of this page – they might assist your legal team with the issues explored in this Blog. 

Of course, if you would like discuss your transformation needs – please book a 30 minute FREE CONSULT WITH GLS 

In the interim, here are 7 resources and tools that may assist you as you transform the performance capabilities of your legal team:

1. GLS's Ultimate Guide to Legal Operations: download this HERE, and read it thoroughly and regularly. It is a wonderful transformation companion

2. GLS Transformation Boot Camp: for our free and hugely successful, 10 week long, email-based boot camp on how to effectively transform your legal team you can SIGN UP HERE

3. GLS Knowledge Centre: click HERE to access lots of informative and instructive white papers, blogs and training resources etc. - all focused on helping to improve your legal team's performance

4. GLS Legal Operations Community: join the GLS Legal Operations Community and collaborate with other in-house leaders as they seek to tackle many of the same performance issues that you face, click here to JOIN NOW

5. Visit GLS Connect: visit the GLS CONNECT PAGE and select the information you would like to receive from the GLS Legal Operations Community

6. GLS Legal Team Transformation Plans: mitigate the risks of transformation failure by taking a GLS TRANSFORMATION SUPPORT PLAN 

7. Register: GLS Legal Operations Centre: REGISTER HERE to access the GLS Legal Operations Centre for free and to receive more than US$20,000 worth of legal team performance resources

© The GLS Group - Law Rewritten  

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