A Lawyer’s Guide to Not Being Part of the Problem: Practical Leadership Tips to Enhance Well-Being in Your Firm

By: Benjamin K. Grimes, BKG Leadership Coaching | Empowering Attorneys, Transforming Legal Practice

You already know we’ve got pressure coming from all sides. From complex, emotionally taxing factual situations, to the rigorous pace of litigation, the intellectual nuance of regulatory compliance and contract drafting, or the pressures of high workloads or billable hour requirements, there are plenty of reasons for the high rates of stress, burnout, substance abuse, and mental health challenges. And making matters worse for many is the environment we’re asked to practice in – long on demands and short on empathy or compassion. To improve things, we often talk about sleep, exercise, gratitude, and the power of aligning with our values. I love all of these but wish our leadership practices weren’t so often left off the list of ways to make our workplaces healthier.

Engaging and empowering leadership, anchored in trust, empathy, and awareness of our impact on our colleagues, can help create a more supportive and engaging culture. With small, simple practices, you can make a meaningful difference in how your associates, partners, non-attorney professionals, and clients/stakeholders experience the practice of law.

Traditional leadership styles frequently amplify the inherent pressures of legal practice. These approaches curtail autonomy, overlook the need for supportive engagement, or stunt professional development, and they contribute to the erosion of well-being.

Other styles of leadership can emphasize a more supportive environment focused on the growth and needs of the people for whom a leader is responsible. I teach “empowering leadership,” which leverages individual attention to facilitate personal and organizational growth. It is particularly useful for legal leaders. With this model, leaders can strengthen the skills and confidence of their colleagues and foster a more collaborative and inclusive culture, while supporting individual growth and contribution to organizational goals.

Three Practices to Try Today

Simple practices can make a significant difference in the impact we have on others’ well-being.  Incorporating them into your daily practice is both easy and (virtually) time-neutral. Each tactic can profoundly transform the dynamics of a legal team or office, creating an environment where colleagues feel seen, valued, and supported in reaching their full potential.

Be Curious

If being a great leader was only about asking questions, lawyers would be our preferred leadership role models. Often, our curiosity is sidelined in favor of our skepticism. We look for weaknesses; we poke holes. Instead, commit to just 2-5 minutes to focus on a colleague’s experiences, challenges, and aspirations. Doing so encourages dialogue and is the first step to building trust and rapport. This can increase job satisfaction and reduce the cognitive load of wearing a mask or playing a part at work (which can be particularly taxing for minority and underrepresented staff and attorneys). A few minutes of curiosity can also lead to insights into workload balance, uncover hidden talents, or identify areas for support or development.

Start with these simple questions:

  • How are you?
  • What are you working on?
  • How’s it going?
  • How can I help?

The key is to ask these questions without an agenda. For example, “Would it help if I did XXX?” is not the same as “How can I help?” With each question, leave room for an answer you didn’t expect. Leaders can use these questions to open 1:1 meetings or small group check-ins, and peer colleagues can use them when catching up over coffee. At its core, cultivating curiosity is about creating a culture where genuine interest in the experiences, challenges, and ambitions of your team is paramount. This promotes open dialogue and fortifies trust and connection.

Delegate More Effectively

Delegation, when executed well, does more than just allocate work. It communicates clear objectives, the rationale behind assignments, expectations of outcomes, and places the work in context. Sharing a little bit more information than we would naturally provide demonstrates trust and provides perspective that can lead to a better, more timely product. Moreover, it reduces the propensity for micromanagement because we can put our focus (and our delegee’s attention) on the aspects of the work that matter most to us.

To delegate more effectively, use this framework:

OBJECTIVES What are we doing? Ex. “Mr. Anderson, I need you to draft the initial merger agreement and conduct a preliminary risk assessment.”
PURPOSE Why is it useful? Ex. “This merger is a key strategic move for our client, and your work will lay the foundation for negotiations.”
INTENT What do I want to achieve? Ex. “I want to ensure that we identify potential legal hurdles early and present a robust framework for the merger.”
TIMELINE When do I need it? (be specific) Ex. “I need the draft and risk assessment in two weeks, before 3 pm on the 7th.”
REQUIREMENTS What are my specific parameters re: output? (i.e., What are my non-negotiables?) Ex. “Be sure to give me a preliminary draft of your proposed valuation and pricing terms before you move on to compiling a complete draft.”


Provide (Actually) Useful Feedback

Too often, we approach feedback with the same lack of intention that drives our lackluster delegation practices. Providing constructive feedback is a linchpin of empowering leadership. It goes beyond just acknowledging good work or redlining a document; it’s about offering feedback that is precise, actionable, and contextual.

Invest just 20 seconds at a time and use this framework to give great feedback:

ACKNOWLEDGE THE WORK Do more than just say, “Thanks.” Ex. “Mr. Anderson, great work on the merger draft and risk assessment.”
COMMENT WITH SPECIFICITY In what way was it valuable, or how could it be improved? (just one thing*) Ex. “Your detailed due diligence is impressive. For the next draft, please focus on enhancing the risk mitigation strategies, especially around regulatory challenges.”
ADD CONTEXT How does this work fit in with the broader work on this matter or for me?  Ex. “These documents are crucial to the merger’s success and winning back some points with the client. Looking forward to the next version.”


*Your broad feedback should focus on just one thing at a time. Editing/redlining a document is a different story and should (obviously) be comprehensive.

This approach lets team members appreciate the significance of their work, understand their contribution to the team’s objectives, and recognize opportunities for personal and professional development.

Investing time in these simple practices will change the way you and others experience the practice of law. They are an investment in the future of your firm or legal organization and you’ll see the ROI on .1 or .2 billable hours developing relationships and fostering professional growth over and over again in hours of engagement and higher quality work.

A West Point graduate and former helicopter pilot, Ben Grimes understands leadership in dynamic environments. Now a professionalism, ethics, and leadership expert, Ben helps lawyers tackle the transition to partnership and other positions of new responsibility. His unique background, including retiring from the U.S. Army after 20 years as a decorated military attorney and now lecturing at Columbia Law School, equips him to offer unparalleled support to legal professionals at every stage of their career. .