Paula Fuentes: “The previous model of law firm management is now being replaced by leadership that motivates and unites”
One of F&B Consultores’s leading executive search specialists discusses the value of coaching in the legal sector.
Leaders League: How is coaching complimentary to executive search services?
Paula Fuentes: Bringing the aspect of coaching into any profession is an advantage, especially in recruitment. The ability to ask the right questions and be an active listener can make all the difference when bringing employer and employee together. Coaching and recruiting both involve getting to know the candidate. Understanding their character, preferences, motivations and objectives is necessary to assist them in the exploration of new life scenarios both professionally and personally.
In my role as a coach, I interview clients, asking them a series of questions to provoke further self-discovery and knowledge. This helps them to clearly identify how they want to see their career evolve and what steps they need to take. In the headhunting role, the questioning process is geared towards assessing whether a client has the skills and attitude that match the law firm’s culture and needs.
What type of coaching do you offer law firms?
As I am a former lawyer, I have a deep knowledge and understanding of both lawyers and the legal sector. I am familiar with the environment, the peculiarities, the culture, and the demands. My professional career path has been in the Spanish legal sector, where I have seen the evolution of Spanish firms and the influence of the international firms. This has given me a great advantage in assisting firms with their strategy and search for talent. I have worked with countless lawyers helping them to build their teams as well as their performance skills, including attracting and retaining talent, effective decision making, managing conflict, and leadership training.
What is the principal issue you find in coaching lawyers?
Lawyers are intelligent, studious, hardworking people. They also have the reputation of being success-driven, demanding of themselves and others, highly competitive and self-important.
Self-importance is healthy to understand your own needs and establish your identity, but can be an obstacle when trying to create a team environment, offer a balanced work atmosphere or have effective leadership skills. Collaborative culture can be a challenge for some law firms whose lawyers are especially competitive.
What effect has the Covid crisis had on law firm culture?
Law firms, like all other companies, have found themselves in the most unusual circumstances, where fear and uncertainty were at an all-time high. Managing partners, practice heads and anyone in a leadership position was forced to adapt quickly and efficiently. I believe the VUCA Prime culture (vision, understanding, clarity and agility) is best the to counteract the VUCA environment (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) we are now in. This will enable leaders to further develop their skills, shifting from a boss to a leader. The crisis has signalled that it is time to change our old models.
The legal sector, which is extremely traditional, changed overnight, which caused a lot of stress at all levels. Working from home was not a common practice in the Spanish legal sector, where physical presence in the office at all hours was expected. Now, as we enter year two of the Covid crisis, home-working is now the norm. This has an enormous impact on law firm culture as people are adapting to balancing home life and working life in a crisis. The new way of working led to a change in management models to create a more collaborate work environment, working toward a shared vision. The previous law firm model of management, of bosses and senior management giving orders, is now being replaced with leadership that motivates and unites the lawyers.
In the legal sector, productivity at all costs is highly valued; the onset of the crisis caused values of trust, commitment, consideration and resilience to be equally important. Emotional intelligence is not only appreciated in law firm culture, it is expected and in high demand. This concept has proven to be a key factor in a company’s success. Law firms with the assistance of coaching are moving in this direction towards success.
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