Michelle Howard shares the three phrases that will help you demonstrate your value and gain partner influence


Imagine this scenario: you have been appointed as a manager or team leader within a law firm. You know your value and have key skills, expertise and knowledge that you can bring to the firm. You also know that others believe in you, but they are waiting to really see the value that you can bring. How do you prove yourself and earn the respect of your peers and your partners? How do you get them to listen to you?

In this article, I explore three powerful phrases that will help you showcase your skills, knowledge and expertise and bring fresh perspective and value to the partners of your firm.

1  Ask what

As a new leader, you have a responsibility to move the firm forward and promote the organisation. This means understanding and supporting the clients you serve. Clients are the lifeblood of any firm, and by understanding their needs, you can ensure you are providing them with the value and service they deserve. You can also use their feedback to shape the future of the firm and to differentiate yourself from competitors, which will help the firm to grow. You must ask, ‘what do the clients need and expect, and what value is the firm bringing for them?’ Client feedback is important for any organisation, as it brings value to the board and, ultimately, partners to the firm. Capturing this vital information will obtain insight and inform business decisions that are more likely to be successful in the future.

There are many ways to ask clients what they need and expect. You can speak to them individually, conduct surveys, focus groups, interviews, and use social media to see the discussions that are taking place. You can also talk to your team to get their insights, as they may be hearing things from clients that you are not aware of. Some specific questions you can ask your clients may include:

  • What are your biggest challenges right now?
  • What are you looking for in a law firm?
  • What are your expectations for service quality?
  • What could we be doing better to meet your needs?

Also, ask what competitors are doing. This can help the firm differentiate their offer and create a strong and bold strategy for the future.

When asking ‘what’ and collating the answers, make sure to question from a position of knowledge and one that is underpinned by understanding, feedback and data. Without this, the feedback to partners will be needless. Once you have gathered data, analyse it to identify common themes and trends. This will help you to understand your clients’ biggest needs and pain points, what they are looking for in a service provider, and what their expectations are for service quality. Once you have a good understanding of your clients’ needs and expectations and an understanding of your competitors, you can start to develop a plan to meet them. This may involve developing new services, improving those existing, or changing the way you deliver in the future. By asking ‘what’ from a position of knowledge and understanding, you can ensure that you are bringing knowledge to partners, helping them (and you) make informed decisions about the future of the firm.

Partner influence graphic (original)


2   Question why

‘Why are we doing this?’ is one of the most under-used phrases in business, and yet it is one of the most powerful. When you question why, you’re not challenging the status quo for the sake of it – you’re seeking to understand the underlying reasons for decisions and strategies. This is essential for continuous improvement and innovation.

It is important to note that questioning why does not mean being disruptive or confrontational. Rather, it is about approaching your senior manager and peers with respect and trust. You are offering a respectful challenge, underpinned by evidence, knowledge and client data. Often, within firms, we do things because that is the way that they have always been done. This is a dangerous position to be in! It means that we are not always efficient or listening to the needs of clients.

Asking why will help the organisation to grow and will make you stronger as a team. In creating a position and a culture with your team where ‘why’ is asked, it will help you to identify and eliminate inefficiencies, uncover hidden assumptions and outdated practices, and help to develop new and innovative solutions. By asking why, you can open up new possibilities and generate new ideas. You can help to ensure that the organisation is aligned with its goals and objectives and is making the best use of its resources. If the direction is the right one, feedback from clients will confirm this.

Some words of caution – be specific and ask questions about decisions and strategies. When you question a decision or strategy, be prepared to explain why you think it is wrong or inefficient and provide evidence to support your claims. Asking why must have a valued purpose.

Be respectful and remember that, while you are aiming to add value, you are questioning the status quo and potentially seeking a change to process or practice. People rarely like change, so respect this and be open to other perspectives. Just because you disagree with a decision or strategy does not mean that you are right. Be open to hearing other people’s perspectives and be willing to change your mind if presented with new evidence.

3   Say how

As a manager, it is your responsibility to make something happen and to share the excellence which lies within. It is also your role to promote and represent the firm, to show it at its best while generating great client value. Once insight has been gathered, be prepared to show that not only will you bring depth of understanding, but you will also contribute to the strategy of the board. I would add that, as a manager, your role is to be a bridge between the board and the team. You need to be able to understand the strategic priorities of the firm and then translate them into actionable goals for your team. You also need to be able to communicate the team’s progress and challenges back to the board.

You have asked two very important questions in ‘what’ and ‘why’, but be prepared to bring the answer. Your role is to promote and represent the firm. If you are sure the solution addresses strategic priorities and meets client need, and you have a plan that shows you understand accountability, this will go a long way to achieving influence as a leader within your firm. This means being able to articulate your vision and strategy clearly by being concise in your communication.

Avoid using jargon or technical language and be specific in your goals. Don’t just say that you want to ‘improve client service’ – say that you want to improve the five-star ratings in client feedback by 10% in the next quarter and then explain why. Be open to feedback and be willing to change your plans if necessary.


This article has highlighted three powerful phrases that can help you demonstrate your value and gain the influence you desire in your role as a leader within your firm.

The first phrase, ‘ask what’, emphasises the importance of understanding and supporting your clients, who are the lifeblood of any organisation. By asking what clients need and expect, and what value the firm is bringing to them, you can gather valuable insights and differentiate your firm from competitors. This approach, underpinned by knowledge and data, will ensure that the feedback you provide to partners is meaningful and supports informed decision-making.

The second phrase, ‘question why’, encourages you to seek a deeper understanding of the reasons behind decisions and strategies within your firm. By respectfully challenging – with evidence, knowledge and client data – you can drive continuous improvement and innovation. This approach helps eliminate inefficiencies, uncover hidden assumptions, and align the organisation with its goals, ultimately leading to growth.

Finally, ‘say how’ emphasises your role as a manager in making things happen and promoting the excellence within your firm. As a bridge between the board and the team, you need to translate strategic priorities into actionable goals and effectively communicate progress and challenges. Being able to articulate your vision and strategy clearly, avoid technical jargon, and be specific in your goals will enhance your influence as a leader.

By incorporating these three phrases into your leadership style, you can showcase your skills, knowledge, and expertise while bringing fresh perspective and value to your firm’s partners. This proactive and informed approach is essential for growth and success in the professional world and is sure to help you to develop partner influence.