Academia, Leadership

Why do we not have more leadership development programs in law school?

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By Stephen Rispoli

Law is a Leadership Degree

For starters, we must recognize that as lawyers, as professionals, we are expected to be leaders in society.  “A lawyer is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.[1]” We have an obligation to serve not only our clients but also society. Our legal training and professional status afford us daily opportunities to influence individuals, organizations and communities.  

In many ways, legal training is implicitly leadership development training. Faculty are teaching and modeling leadership in the classroom and beyond; however, we are not teaching leadership intentionally. We must help our students understand that their professional obligation is to serve their clients and their communities. Their professional opportunities will enable them to lead and to be change-makers. If we see ourselves as problem solvers and trusted advisors instead of deal killers and hired guns, maybe the public will see us that way too.

We can start developing lawyer-leaders intentionally by reframing the way we think about leadership development training. Law faculties are equipped to participate. Because they are lawyers, they have served in a variety of leadership roles, including as professors in the classroom. Leadership goes on every day, in every classroom. Faculty can more intentionally model leadership and help students see themselves as leaders. Students, from observing our interactions and actions, learn how to address colleagues and classmates, how to treating others with respect, and what it means to be a professional. But faculty can also encourage one of the most fundamental aspects of leadership – intellectual curiosity – as a way of life. Law professors can equip students with knowledge, skills and strategies that will help them be successful in dealing with, and leading, people and organizations.

The majority of law school applicants provide personal statements that express their desire to go to law school because they want to make a difference, to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves, or to make our communities better. Don’t we owe it to them to equip them with more than just the ability to critically analyze an issue? Don’t we want to make sure we set them up for success, not only in the practice of law but also in the many other arenas in which they will serve?


[1] The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Preamble: A Lawyer’s Responsibilities,