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Alvarez on being his clients' quarterback

Cesar Alvarez tells the story of being hired in 1972 by attorney Mel Greenberg to help law firm Greenberg Traurig build its presence in the Hispanic market. Along the way, Alvarez helped establish the firm as a leading international presence with thousands of lawyers.

Named executive VP in 1995 and CEO in 1997, the corporate and securities lawyer today serves as senior chairman of the firm, and is a respected leader in the Miami legal, business and civic community. Along the way, he’s evolved as the legal professional has. Instead of just practicing law, today, good lawyers are advisers, networkers – even sounding boards. He’s his clients’ “quarterback.”

Someone aspires to lead a law firm. What should they do?

To be a leader of a law firm, you first have to be a great lawyer yourself. You cannot try to manage or lead lawyers when you haven’t done the things you’re asking them to do. If you have never generated business, you have never solved complex issues, if you have not had those tough conversations with clients, it’s very difficult for anybody to take leadership from you.

Second, you should develop a style of being a servant leader. You’re leading your partners; you’re not leading a bunch of business units. You’re trying to get a lot of professionals to come together as a firm to deliver great solutions to clients. You have to inspire them. If you’re able to create a level of trust where the people of the firm trust you as a great lawyer and as a servant leader there to make their lives better, where they don’t work for you, but you work for them, then I think you have the basis for being a leader in a firm.

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