Academia, Leadership

Why is leadership important for the future of the legal profession… and society?

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 By Leah Teague 

The need for leaders in our communities, in our country, has never been greater. A survey by the Harvard Center for Public Leadership found that over two-thirds of Americans think the nation has a leadership crisis. Some believe our nation has never been more complex, polarized, and siloed than now. We need leaders who have vision, values, integrity and the ability to see beyond the narrow perspectives of one side. We need lawyers to step up and play more active roles in their communities.

Lawyers offer many skill sets that are helpful in accomplishing goals and effectuating change. Law schools develop students’ proficiencies in identifying and analyzing issues and problems, and in communicating clearly and persuasively as necessary. Lawyers know that negotiation and compromise may be necessary to move past gridlock. Our code of professional conduct establishes an expectation of civility and integrity in our actions.

Will we recognize that lawyers’ highest and best use is not as legal technicians (although that will sure be required)? Will we remember that our role as legal analysts, advocates and problem solvers allow us to effectively counsel and influence clients and organizations?

Leah Teague

But the legal profession is at a crossroads as well. What will be the role of lawyers in society in the future? The profession is forever changed—we have an inkling of what’s to come with technology and the impact of artificial intelligence on our profession, but we don’t really know the full implications. Which of our traditional lawyering tasks will be automated? How will we adapt? Will we recognize that lawyers’ highest and best use is not as legal technicians (although that will sure be required)? Will we remember that our role as legal analysts, advocates and problem solvers allow us to effectively counsel and influence clients and organizations? Will we finally find a way to stem the tide of mistrust in lawyers and lack of faith in the institution that is our system of democracy and its rule of law?

Planning for what society needs from lawyers in the future is why we should begin to think about skills beyond learning substantive law or technical skills, which have been the focus of law schools traditionally. The skill sets needed as counselors and leaders—those who are going to help clients and organizations work through their issues—are going to be even more important to lawyers in the future. They will be just as important as professional responsibility, ethics, and service to the public. Leadership should be equally pervasive in our language as we teach our students about our obligations and opportunities as lawyers.

-LT