Uncategorized

Leading Without Authority

Have you ever been in a situation where your ideas or concerns, as expressed to those in authority, did not lead to action? Did it leave you feeling dissatisfied and powerless? Many of us have found ourselves in these frustrating situations– or even hopeless– because we had no authority to change the situation. Keith Ferrazzi’s book, Leading Without Authority, is written to encourage and empower us as leaders and influencers, especially in situations where we have no title, position, or power of authority to act.

Ferrazzi frames a new dynamic for leadership that encourages those in a follower position, and even those in a leadership position, to use collaborative approaches to problem-solving that redefine the traditional power paradigm. Ferrazzi places this new framework on our ability to create our own team, identify our own goals, and effect change. It is packed with strategies and approaches to leading without authority, not only for those who teach leadership but particularly important for law students and young lawyers who have not reached a point in their career to hold traditional leadership power or positions.

We highly encourage you to pick up or download a copy and recommend it to your law students. The lessons in it will help them, starting with their internships and clerkships this summer.

– Liz and Stephen

Uncategorized

How to Lead When You’re Not In Charge

As a follow-up on the wonderful letter from Dean Brinkley to law students posted last week, I highly recommend How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge, by Clay Scroggins, by Clay Scroggins for some summer reading for our law students (and faculty, too!). Better yet, they can download the audiobook and hear Clay Scroggins read it to them. The audiobook really allows Scroggins’s personality and flair to come through while reading an already-entertaining book.

How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge is a wonderful reminder for all of us, no matter our title, position, or authority, that leadership is built upon relationships. But it is especially helpful for students participating in summer internships. Students can use the book to incorporate the lessons they are learning in law school and apply them in their summer internships to make good impressions and help their organizations. As the least senior team members, this book can give them practical tips and suggestions for discovering who they are and how they fit into the organization, how they can make a positive difference, and even how to challenge, in a constructive and respectful manner, the more senior lawyers with whom they work.

A note about Clay Scroggins: As the lead pastor for North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, this book has a religious slant. Although not overbearing, I did want to mention it so that readers will know going in.

I thouroughly enjoyed this book and am sure that you will too!

– Stephen

Uncategorized

Dear Summer Law Clerk,

Special Guest Post By:

Martin H. Brinkley, Dean and William Rand Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina School of Law, Chapel Hill.

As we roll into June and turn our focus to helping law students apply leadership skills in their summer internships and other opportunities, we reached out to Dean Martin Brinkley at UNC Law School requesting that he share some words of wisdom with all of our law students. We love what he wrote! Please share this letter with your students!


Dear Summer Law Clerk,

Before becoming dean of the University of North Carolina School of Law in 2015, I spent 22 years in private law practice at two large law firms.  I met, hired, and evaluated many, many summer law clerks. 

You might well think that law students, by virtue of their temporary status in the firm, are about as low on the totem pole of “power” in a law firm as it can get.  That line of thinking misses the point.  Seeing whether you have the capacity to be someone powerful in the future is what the firm is doing with you in the summer.

I remember from my practice days how some summer clerks seemed to grasp the dynamics and culture of the law firm naturally, while others – highly competent at law work, but emotionally clueless – blundered over the most obvious landmines.  For some of you, the analytical skills your professors have helped you develop have come easily.  But sensitivity to other human beings in an organization like a law firm, corporate legal department, or government agency is a different, equally important skill.  Years of experience have taught me that the ability to forge ties of sympathy and shared awareness can be learned and cultivated.  And even those of us who think we are “good with people” can improve at it. 

Take my word for it:

  • The ability to work with other people through stressful, challenging situations over the long haul is a core leadership skill in the profession of law
  • This skill has nothing in common with the analytical muscles you’ve been building up in law school. 
  • The ability to work with others is a leadership trait your employer is looking for, at least as much as any traditional “lawyering” skill. 

              Here are a couple of simple observations that apply to every workplace. 

First:  Work hard.  Do great work.  Come early and stay late – if that is what the lawyers you’re working with on a given project are doing.  But otherwise, spend your time forming relationships.  Be enthusiastic about the firm and its clients, but avoid looking like a gunner. 

You have been offered a summer job so that your employer can assess two things about you.  First, can you do the work that clients need done, at a level that will impress the clients and bind them closer to the firm over the long haul?  Second, are you a good long-term “fit” for the employer’s culture, not just now but for many years to come?  In short, will you wear well? 

Trying too hard to impress those you are working with can signal, unintentionally, that you are needy of approval and lack confidence.  Take the compliments you receive graciously, but have the humility to ask the assigning lawyer what you could have done better.  Inviting criticism assures your employer that you are focused less on yourself than on doing a good job.  It suggests that if hired, you will take criticism well and, thus, wear well.

Law firms, corporate legal departments, and other employers, no matter how prestigious, are not law schools.  Competition for grades and short-term prizes like law review slots are not what they are there to foster.  Legal employers are there to help clients to meet their goals and to offer rewarding careers to lawyers and staff.  That’s it.  Nothing more.  Their question about you is:  Can we see you as a person whom we enjoy working with?  Will you contribute to our organization over time?

Second:  Respect, support, and befriend non-lawyer staff members.  A sure-fire way to exhibit quiet leadership in any work setting is to forge strong relationships with support staff. 

Administrative assistants, IT professionals, and paralegals are the backbone of law firms, corporate legal departments, and government agencies.  Without their skills, clients cannot be served effectively. 

Partners and experienced associates in law firms, and senior lawyers in other work settings, know this intimately.  Unless they are dysfunctional narcissists, they approach these vital co-workers with the greatest respect and affection.  Any hiring committee worth its salt will spot the summer clerk who courts only the powerful and ignores the rest.  For their part, support personnel can smell arrogance and self-regard a mile away – and will not hesitate to make their views known to the lawyers they work with.  When I was in practice, I would actively seek out the views of my longtime administrative assistant on our summer clerks.  She knew she had the power to blackball any clerk whose interpersonal skills did not impress her.  She was never wrong.

My advice on this score: 

  • Make the copies yourself, after asking an administrative assistant (“AA”) how to work the machine.  Put in a new ream of paper when the supply is low. 
  • Print your own research and work products, or at least offer to, unless the AA tells you otherwise.
  • Enter your own time unless you are instructed otherwise.  If you are told to give your timesheets to an AA, turn them in on a daily basis.  There is nothing a good AA hates more than a lawyer who leaves all of his or her timesheets til the end of the week, much less the end of the month.
  • If you have a day when you aren’t being taken to lunch by a lawyer, bring your sandwich into the staff breakroom.  Show an interest in the families and lives of staff members. 
  • Call administrative staff by the titles preferred in the workplace you’re in (i.e., don’t call someone a “secretary” if the firm calls him or her an “administrative assistant”). 

If you want to be viewed as a long-term asset to your summer employer, these suggestions should serve you well.  Best of luck to you.

Martin H. Brinkley is Dean and William Rand Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina School of Law, Chapel Hill.

Uncategorized

Increasing Productivity and Reducing Stress in the New World of Hybrid Work

As many lawyers return to the office, we can use this disruption to create new habits that promote happiness and balance in the practice of law while handling all our clients’ needs. This article shares some thoughts about balance and some suggestions for forming new habits.

Increasing Productivity and Reducing Stress in the New World of Hybrid Work

Uncategorized

High Expectations

By Pat Wilson

But wait, If I could shake the crushing weight of expectations
Would that free some room up for joy
Or relaxation, or simple pleasure?

Perhaps you recognize these lyrics from the song “Surface Pressure,” from the Disney movie, Encanto, which is a profound yet utterly entertaining movie for both adults and children, in case you missed it. This song in particular captures what it can mean when the expectations we have for ourselves or that others have for us start to weigh us down. 

High expectations are especially true for lawyers and the law students with whom we interact. We and they were the high achievers through grade school, high school, and college. Of course, the expectations are high because we are the ones that gained admission to law school, and law school is nothing if not an environment teeming with pressure. Law school is only the beginning as the pressure on lawyers continues to grow for them to represent their clients well and bring their matters to a successful conclusion while juggling the myriad obligations of family, household, community service, and on and on.

Of the 13,000 attorneys surveyed by the American Bar Association as part of a study it conducted, 21% qualify as problem drinkers, which is nearly double the rate for other highly educated professionals. Twenty-eight percent struggle with depression, while 19% have symptoms of anxiety. The survey found that two-thirds of women reported severe stress as compared to 49% of men; some 23% of women reported moderate or severe anxiety compared to 15% of men.

The statistics for law students are similarly grim. A survey of 3300 law students, summarized in the ABA report, disclosed that 53% of law students got drunk in the prior 30 days and 45% binge drank at least once in the prior two weeks. Seventeen percent of students reported suffering from depression, while 14% reported severe anxiety, and 23% reported mild or moderate anxiety.

The ABA study does not suggest the cause for these various results, but one has to wonder if they are not due in part to the pressure of being a lawyer or a law student. 

So where does this lead us? Possibly to the obvious conclusion but one that bears repeating: we must strive to have more realistic expectations for ourselves and to model for our students the importance of not trying to do it all and have it all. I am of the strong belief that we can’t have it all, and no one should expect us to try. Much like a prix fixe menu, one can choose among the various options, but a choice here forecloses a different choice there. The fact that one opts for the prix fixe menu does not signal weakness. Rather, it means that one is much less likely to overeat to a state of discomfort. 

Maybe the best we can do for our students is to encourage our students to set high goals but strive to be realistic—not everyone will grade on to law review or snag the “high A” in every course, and that’s okay. It seems we also have an obligation to continue to remind students of the importance of taking care of their own mental health and being alert to the stressors that may be affecting their peers—we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers in that regard. Of course, we need to take care of our own mental health and be sensitive to students who may be struggling.

Finally, as trite as it seems, we need to encourage our students to stop and smell the roses. We ought to, and our students should be encouraged to, seek things that bring them joy or simple pleasure. It might help relieve some of the pressure we face.

– PW

Uncategorized

One Law Firm – 23,000 Pro Bono Hours

As a follow-up to our recent blog posts on the importance of Pro Bono,

We wanted to share with you the following article from Law360 on how the law firm of Lowenstein Sandler LLP clocked more than 23,000 hours of Pro Bono legal services in 2021:

How Lowenstein Managed 23K Pro Bono Hours Last Year

Uncategorized

We’ll Always be Developing as Professionals: Reflections on the Relationship Among Professional Development, Pro Bono Practice, the Law School Classroom, and the Private Practice of Law

Special Guest Post By:

Angela Schultz, Assistant Dean for Public Service, Marquette University Law School 

As we wrap up National Volunteer Month and transition into May, our focus in this blog shifts from the importance of volunteer service to the importance of mental health. We asked Angela Schultz, Asst. Dean for Public Service at Marquette Law School and current Chair of the AALS Section on Pro Bono and Public Service Opportunities, to write about the “why” behind pro bono. She chose – and we thought this was brilliant – to interview a couple of volunteers with the Marquette pro bono program. As you will see in the post, they discuss how pro bono is not only good for the clients – it’s also good for the lawyers.

Thank you, Angela, for writing a great post!


This morning I supervised a brief legal advice clinic on Zoom. Six lawyers and six law students gathered to provide legal advice to twelve clients during a two-hour period. One of the volunteer lawyers, Dan, is a recent law school graduate and is in private practice with a large firm. His focus is mergers and acquisitions in healthcare systems. He deals with layers of bureaucracy, complicated laws, managing client expectations, and ticking clocks as legal deadlines approach. Today, Dan worked alongside Shana, a 1L, to serve two pro bono clients. The first was seeking a return of their security deposit. The second was looking for help with a claim for unpaid wages. Dan and Shana got to work and spent about 50 minutes with each client. When we debriefed afterward, I asked them for their reflections. Here is some of what they shared.

Dan, mergers and acquisitions of large healthcare systems seems a world away from the pro bono practice you do at this clinic. Are there similarities?

Pro bono involvement, from law school through now, has been the place where I have developed most of my client interview skills. Both pro bono clients today needed to chart out for me the steps they had already taken—and that’s something I routinely do in my M&A cases. If my business client has filed a new LLC, I need to know because a clock is now ticking on a particular legal deadline. If a pro bono client has vacated their apartment on a particular date, I need to know because a clock is now ticking for their landlord to communicate with them about the security deposit. It’s the same set of skills.

Shana, the classroom is a demanding place in law school. The work requires a high level of attention and a lot of time. Why did you decide to make a place for pro bono service on top of the demands of the classroom?

I don’t have lawyers in my family. The pro bono clinics are the first place I had access to observing a lawyer do their job. That was my first reason for signing up. But then I started to understand the justice gap and how necessary the clinics are for people navigating legal matters without a lawyer. Now I’m hooked. And while the classroom is where I learn a lot of theory, the clinics are I learn a lot of practical skills. I have watched lawyers be very direct with clients. Last week I heard a lawyer tell the client she believed he was minimizing his abusive behaviors towards his child’s mother. I would have imagined that was a hard or scary thing to do. But the lawyer did it in a very matter-of-fact style that seemed non-judgmental but also non-forgiving. The client actually agreed. It was inspiring to see and made me feel less afraid of having such straightforward conversations.

Dan, your practice is obviously quite demanding and time-consuming. What makes you set aside time for pro bono?

My practice can be all-consuming. I spend many early mornings, late nights, and weekends dedicated to my clients’ business goals. But my pro bono practice allows me to maintain perspective. The dollar values involved in my private practice are a world away from the dollar values on the table in the pro bono clinic, but the implications to my clients’ daily lives are also worlds apart. The billion-dollar deal does not implicate where my client’s child will sleep that night. The pro bono eviction case does implicate my client’s housing and may determine where their child sleeps that night. I refuse to let my practice, admittedly in an ivory tower, blind me to the challenges facing everyday people. And one more thing: if lawyers don’t get involved to close the justice gap, who will? It’s our job. We’re actually the only ones who can do it.

Shana, as your first year of law school comes to a close, what words of wisdom would you share with a rising 1L?

The days will seem very long but the year will fly by. Meet as many new people as you can and don’t be afraid to ask questions. I watch every lawyer in every pro bono clinic ask questions. They find other lawyers to consult with and they seek out the clinic supervisors every time. It’s a relief to know being a lawyer doesn’t require you to “know it all.” It seems that being a lawyer means taking on a career involving lifelong learning. Lean into it. I guess we’ll always all be developing as professionals.

Uncategorized

The Business Case for Pro Bono

By Stephen Rispoli

Lawyers are regularly asked to serve in their communities, and we hope lawyers do so with a servant’s heart. When asked to join local boards, help with civic needs, and take on pro bono cases, young lawyers can benefit beyond the personal satisfaction that comes with knowing they are doing these things for the right reasons. These efforts also can be helpful to their careers with intention and planning. In 2016, Matt Czimskey, one of my law school classmates, Jeanine Rispoli, my wife and the current President of the Texas Young Lawyers Association, and I presented at the ABA Young Lawyers Division Fall Conference. The topic for our presentation was “Growing Your Network: Ethics and Professional Conduct that Builds Relationships.” In the paper that was given to the audience, we highlight the importance of community service and three questions that every young lawyer should consider:

Community involvement should have a positive impact on your community and your career. Thus, there are three fundamental questions that you must ask yourself: (1) who am I and what do I want to do; (2) how can I best inform people who I am and what I do; and (3) what decisions must I make to make myself known and build a reputation for my practice?

The full paper can be read here.

There are always too many demands for our time. Our experience has been that by answering these questions and being intentional about serving the community, young lawyers can live up to the aspirational goals of the profession and benefit their careers at the same time. In Chapter 22 of Fundamentals of Lawyer Leadership, we give some further guidance to students about their service paths and some thoughts to consider as they explore options.

We’d like to hear from you about how you address this subject. When students ask you why they should get involved in the community, what do you tell them? Are they seeking aspirational reasons? The practical side of actually getting involved? Or do they want to know whether it is worth doing given their billable-hour minimums at the law firms? Tell us what you say in the comments below.

– SLR

Uncategorized

Leadership and Public Service

Image Based on Materials Created by freepik – www.freepik.com

Special Guest Post By:

Sue Schechter, Director, Field Placement Program and Faculty Co-Director, Pro Bono Program, UC Berkeley School of Law; and

Erin Bair, Assistant Director, Career Development Office, Loyola Law School/Los Angeles

In thinking about Leadership and Public Service, we went back to the all-important Model Rules that many of us rely upon throughout our professional lives.

As many of you know, the Model Rules of Professional Conduct begin with a Preamble that calls upon us to, “…devote professional time and resources and use civic influence to ensure equal access to our system of justice for all those who because of economic or social barriers cannot afford or secure adequate legal counsel. A lawyer should aid the legal profession in pursuing these objectives and should help the bar regulate itself in the public interest.” There are many days when we wish that law students would have to memorize, write, and daily repeat these sentences to reinforce not only their importance but to remember we all made this agreement when we entered this noble profession.

Then we moved to Model Rule 6.1, which is where many of us go when we want to teach students about the importance of pro bono and the lawyers’ role in making our legal system more accessible to all: Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. A lawyer should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono publico legal services per year….

As we pondered these two foundational entries in the Model Rules, we wondered how this relates to the concept of leadership, what does it mean to be a leader who cares about public service, and can you be a leader and not care about public service? We think not. Furthermore, we think that if you are only focusing on the benefit you are giving and not the benefit you are receiving, you might be missing out, both in terms of personal satisfaction and professional growth.

We think being a leader means doing action that is in alignment with your values and that law is a service profession at its heart.  Through our schools’ pro bono and public service programs, we simultaneously fulfill our commitment to public service and instill the importance of service, as well as our skills, competencies, and experience, in the next generation of legal practitioners. 

And though this all sounds altruistic, we think you will find that at the end of the day, you will benefit most. We tend to think effective leaders have all the answers. We tend to think of leadership as a static status. When we remember that at its heart lies action, we realize that the actions required are based on humility: centering on the persons we are assisting and asking the right questions. Though we are desperately needed for our knowledge, we cannot impart it without building relationships. It is through relationships – not our knowledge or our status – that we demonstrate true leadership.

Pro bono and public service provides an opportunity to build our relational skills with emerging lawyers and the clients who have put their trust in us. These skills will transcend these relationships. Building our relationship muscles will take us farther as professionals, colleagues, family members, and community leaders than our knowledge alone ever could.

We think the fundamental questions we all need to be asking each other, and even more importantly, asking those we are assisting, is what does service mean to them, how will they serve, and how will they use their experience to reach the goals for which we all strive – access to justice for all?

Uncategorized

Ways To Promote Pro Bono and Public Service

By Stephen Rispoli

April is National Volunteer Month. To celebrate, this month’s focus is service. The calling as lawyers to be servant leaders is needed now more than ever. We spend considerable time helping our law students develop their professional identities. Service should be a significant component. As our first post in this series, we hope to collect and share information about how law schools promote pro bono and public service.

At Baylor Law, we recently hosted our annual Student Awards Ceremony, where we recognized our students who have gone above and beyond in their pro bono service. We encourage students to engage in service during law school by recognizing them for the number of hours volunteered or their contributions in specific programs, such as the Veterans Clinic. Recognition in the Pro Bono and Public Service Program starts at 50 hours and builds up to 225+ hours, at which point the student is recognized at graduation as a Public Interest Fellow (as long as the student has also completed some specific public interest focused coursework).

YOUR HELP IS NEEDED!

We would love to see other examples of ways to encourage future lawyers to make service an important part of their professional formation. Please tell us how you encourage service at your law school.

  1. Does your law school have a mandatory or voluntary program?
  2. Either way, what do you do at your school to recognize law students who have gone above and beyond?
  3. Do you give awards or certificates?
  4. Do you hold an awards ceremony?

Please share in the comments section or by direct email to Stephen_Rispoli@Baylor.edu. Of course, the comments will be available to everyone, but we will compile the results at the end of the month and share them in a follow-up post on this blog to synthesize the information.

– SLR