Regardless of title, job function, or tenure, law firm professionals from junior-level to mid and senior-level, are all seeking ways to solidify their positions as a trusted, indispensable advisor to partners and senior firm leadership. Join us as we embark on an insightful three-part series focused on crafting a professional persona that will elevate your career and the habits that can help support your success at any and every level.
PART 1: Listening Tours are a Metaphor.
One of the most common practices for newly hired executives is to “go on a listening tour”. The notion of a listening tour often starts during the recruiting stage as a demonstration of commitment or early investment in firm culture. Some suggest this should take weeks, months, or even a year, while few executives have the time to wait before the clock starts ticking and the expectation of a brilliant deliverable or recommendation becomes acute. For mid-and-junior level positions, that runway is much shorter, if it exists at all. Listening before making any changes or recommendations is certainly advisable, but often the secret to listening is understanding what’s not being said. And the tour never actually ends.
When someone new joins a team, the dynamic for everyone shifts. Temptation looms to prove one’s value, knowledge and worth or to just get some quick wins to feel traction, but this can come at a cost. For those already at the firm, it may be unsettling if the things they have already invested in like firm culture, job purpose and professional identity feel at risk. To mitigate this skepticism, new hires need to listen, observe, and focus on building bonds with peers in the early stages of their integration.
Firm cultures are unique unto themselves and always evolving, and those with experience at multiple law firms are more likely to comment on the differences rather than the similarities across firms. The impact of leadership changes, shifting client demands, attrition and new hires, all of which are naturally occurring and expected, can create ripple effects throughout firm life for lawyers and professionals alike.
Regardless of title or tenure, a few simple habits can support your success and solidify your position as an indispensable trusted advisor worthy of replicating. One of the keys is “active listening”, which is described in a recent article published by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) as “requiring you to listen attentively to a speaker, understand what they’re saying, respond and reflect on what’s being said, and retain the information for later”. CCL notes six techniques to support listening: 1) pay attention, 2) withhold judgment, 3) reflect, 4) clarify, 5) summarize, and 6) share. This type of listening becomes the playbook for a successful “tour”, but many find success by adopting these active listening habits continuously throughout their career.
Adopting a meaningful listening mindset will foster the development of relationships which will be important during your time at the firm and can become career-long relationships. While taking some notes during the meeting is obvious, your reflections after the meeting are critical. Consider focusing on the following:
- What did you observe?
- What role you think the person plays on their team, or in their office or at the firm?
- What did you learn from them?
The benefits of active listening, as outlined by CCL are two-fold: “active listening helps establish trust… and gain co-workers and direct reports respect” and are also the calling cards of strong legal professional.
Here are a few examples of when listening tours pay off down the road:
1. When the “I don’t know what I don’t know” moments start to pile up.
When you have more questions than answers, it may be useful to reflect on the conversations you’ve had and identify who could provide context and help find solutions. What do you notice about how “successful” people get things done at your firm? Did anyone share a story about overcoming an obstacle that may be helpful to consult with to resolve your open issue?
One way to solidify collegiality is to deepen peer relationships by validating others’ strengths and seeking their guidance. Showing you’re ready to learn, and continuing to listen, lets others know you’re invested.
2. Resisting the urge to apply past success as a present solution.
When developing solutions, regroup with others that may have relevant insights. The bespoke nature of firms makes cookie-cutter solutions or the “tried and true” methods from prior positions a risky recommendation without getting buy-in. Mastering “active listening” is a powerful approach to client service, and tapping others’ knowledge establishes you as a resourceful and collaborative professional when you give due credit.
3. Navigating learning curves.
The unknowns in a new environment can be daunting and may only be resolved with the passage of time. One way to short circuit the learning curve is to focus on what is within your control: continuing to listen, observe and deepen relationships throughout the firm. The upfront investment of that time is well spent and will pay dividends throughout your career. When it feels right, seek strong mentoring, coaching and trusted advisors to support growth period. Find your “rock”.
Develop a habit of helping those within your organization and become known for delivering quality work that feels authentic to the firm. Be proactive and engaging, even when you still feel like an outsider. Offering to help on important, time-sensitive projects is a great starting point to becoming a dependable peer. By remaining consistent in your approach to listening and committed to finding solutions that align with firm goals and industry best practices positions you for becoming an indispensable professional.
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