From Tipping the Scales - Lisa Arrowood: ‘A Leader Has the Courage to Make Decisions’

Lisa Arrowood is a founding partner of Arrowood Peters LLP, whose practice concentrates on business litigation, employment disputes, medical malpractice, personal injury, and legal malpractice. She is the Secretary of the BBA Council and a member of the BBA’s Executive Committee. She is also a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and is Vice-Chair of the ACTL Massachusetts State Committee. She holds a three year appointment (2010-2013) as the First Circuit Representative to the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.

  1.  What leadership experience was necessary to found your own litigation boutique?

 My litigation boutique, Arrowood Peters, is the second new law firm I have founded; I had co-founded Todd & Weld in 1992. So I had done it before, but I learned a lot in the 20 years at Todd & Weld about being a leader within a law firm. It was an interesting experience to be one of two female partners at Todd & Weld – for the first five years, I was the only one. There’s a certain understanding that comes from being the only female partner in a firm with a lot of female associates – you have to be a good role model and leader for women in particular.

 That, combined with a lot of experience leading teams on cases that went to trial, helped a lot in setting up the new firm – especially learning how to organize people, how to get tasks done, and how to motivate others, among other things.

  1. As a leader of other lawyers in volunteer organizations, what skills, qualities, or style do you consider crucial to ensure success?

 I think this is true of leadership in general, but one of the most important abilities is to make decisions and ‘let the buck stop with you.’ In order to be a good leader, you need the courage to make those decisions, and sometimes that means you need the courage to be wrong and work from there. In a volunteer organization, something key to keep in mind is respecting the fact that all of the volunteers are very busy and have a lot of responsibilities, so being efficient and not wasting time is extremely important. Volunteers are giving very precious time to the organization, so it’s always important for leaders to be sensitive to that.

  1. How do you establish credibility as a leader?

As a leader, you have to be willing to do some of the work and not just delegate, although good leaders do know how to delegate and are good at it. I am a firm believer that you can’t get everything done if you insist on trying to do it all yourself.

Beyond that, it often depends on the leadership role. For heading up a trial team, for example, where the goal is to win the case, people who work under you have to be confident that you know what you’re doing, that you’re going to do a good job, and that things need to be done a certain way because that’s the best way to do them – and it has to show up in results. That’s where people will see you as an effective and credible leader: when the direction you provide will get everybody to the place they want to be. Within the BBA or a volunteer organization, it’s a little more complex, because it’s a multifaceted organization with many different goals. That’s where it’s great to have an unbelievable team like the BBA staff to prepare and assist its leaders.

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