In conversation with Ian Hopkins: How to build an effective leadership teams within your law firm

Having spent over three decades in various fee earner and managerial roles, Ian Hopkins understands what makes a high-performing law firm. In this conversation, Ian shares his 30 years’ experience to help you build an effective leadership team.

Ian, owner of Hopkins Management Consultancy and senior consultant at CPM21, joined me for episode two of our Empowering Law Firm Leaders interview series. In this conversation, we discuss how to be an effective leader and how to build successful leadership teams to future-proof your legal business.  

In this conversation we cover:

  • The importance of business-thinking
  • Current legal leadership challenges and how to overcome them
  • How to improve employee engagement
  • What makes a good leader

Watch the interview with Ian Hopkins:

Ian’s quick-fire lessons for running a successful law firm

With the power of hindsight, Ian shares the top three lessons he’s learnt about running a successful law firm and what it takes to be a good leader.

  1. You must have a clear vision and strategy – “There has to be clarity in the vision and you must have goals and objectives in place. Once you have those in place, you need to check in regularly to make sure that progress is on track and to see if any adjustments need to be made.”

2. Instil a positive culture – “The SRA are right to be dealing with toxic cultures in the legal profession. Changing the culture of a business can’t be done overnight but there are four elements to creating a positive culture:

  • You first need to identify (and then follow) the values of your firm
  • Leaders need to be authentic and optimistic
  • Effectively communicate and share as much information as you can
  • Value all staff equally irrespective of their role.”

3. Deal with issues as they occur – “It’s crucial not to sweep things under the carpet. You need to have excellent feedback mechanisms to get early warning signs before things blow up. Once you’re aware of what is causing frustrations you have to act on it and fix it, no matter how difficult that may be.”

How to overcome the current challenges facing law firm leaders

“There is no shortage of challenges for law firms right now. Whilst some challenges may be size or sector specific, there are challenges which are common to all firms irrespective of size.”

Ian outlines four of the key challenges that SME leaders currently face:

  1. The cost of regulation

“Law firms are having to spend more time dealing with regulatory issues, which impacts fee earning time and profitability.  For smaller firms who don’t have the budget for a dedicated risk department, third-party help is a cost-effective way to help with the challenge of the regulatory burden.”

2. Obtaining professional indemnity insurance (PII)

The rise in PII costs has caused several law firms to recently close. Ian explains that: “Firms need to show good risk management practices, particularly around the supervision of staff – that’s super important.”

About Ian Hopkins  

Ian qualified as a solicitor in 1987 and began his career as a claimant personal injury lawyer. After ten years, he progressed into management spanning many leadership roles including managing partner, chief executive, and regional director of five law firms across the UK.

“As a solicitor I’ve occupied just about every fee earning position there is, so I can certainly empathise with the pressures individuals feel. And I’ve had hands on experience running law firms, so what I do now with that experience is help law firm owners improve and grow their business.”

3. Recruiting and retaining staff

“Small firms are at a disadvantage to large firms [in relation to recruiting and retaining staff] because they’re able to offer higher salaries. What I would recommend is to match the salary and benefits as much as you can but build engagement with staff to tackle retention.” Building the right culture that encourages employee involvement, responsibility, and recognition is key to retaining talent and avoiding the high costs of recruitment.

4. Fierce competition

Competition is as fierce as it’s ever been so Ian recommends that firms double down on their strengths. “Understand the market you’re in and focus on your core business services. Stick to what you know and do it famously.” To understand your market you need to understand your clients, which starts by asking questions: “The feedback you’ll get will be worth it’s weight in gold to your business. It could help you avoid needing to running faster and faster each year, just to stand still.”

The barriers to employee engagement

Employee engagement is crucial to avoid the biggest and most costly challenge facing law firm leaders right now – recruitment. “Companies with engaged employees outperform their peers by 147%, so engagement really does impact productivity, profitability, and business success.”

Ian explains that it’s not necessarily initiatives or schemes that improve employee engagement – whilst they may initially improve satisfaction – it’s the process of work that defines how people feel about their job. This includes the tech and tools employees have to perform their jobs effectively; the access to business data to understand how they individually contribute; a clear career progression path; and recognition – all of which impact engagement the most.

What makes an effective leadership team?

A good leadership team is important for creating a positive culture that motivates and inspires individuals to meet business goals. Ian recommends that law firms, “need to look to create leaders at all levels of the business. Don’t just think ‘leader’ in terms of the person at the top of the business. You really need to create leaders at all levels because that’s where you get the drive from to move the business forward.”

To be a good leader it’s important to not only have a clear vision and plan, but to be able to communicate it effectively to partners and the wider team: “The team need to feel empowered to deliver with clear goals and objectives.” Ian also believes leadership should be: “Self-managed, accountable, and responsible for performance and results.”

A high-performing law firm starts with an effective leadership team

To get the best from your employees you need a strong leadership team to drive the business collectively towards the goal.

An effective leader must be an authentic role model, who lives the values of the firm and can successfully communicate their vision.

But an effective leader is only as effective as their team, which is why you need empowered leaders at all levels of the business. Ian emphasises the importance of having a clear vision and strategy at management level, so everyone is clear what they’re working towards, what success looks like, and how they contribute. This is the foundation for a high-performing, successful law firm.

Watch the full interview with Ian Hopkins now to discover more advice and guidance on building an effective leadership team. You’ll also hear Ian’s exclusive advice to all future law firm leaders on how to motivate a team and what you must plan for to avoid surprises.