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Encouraging Students to Use the Power of their Law Degree for Good

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Leah Teague

“I also learned that a law degree not only changes your life…it has the potential of helping you change the lives of many others. And last but now least, I learned that lawyers can and should be leaders. And wow, does the world need bright and committed leaders right now!”

These were words shared by Jerry Clements, Chair Emeritus of Locke Lord LLP, as the keynote speaker for our 2019 John William and Florence Dean Minton Student Award Ceremony and Lecture Series. Only after law school did Jerry recognize that the leadership skills and legal skills taught in law school would prepare her to one day chair of one of the largest law firms in America. And lead effectively she did! As Chair of Locke Lord LLP from 2006-2017, the law firm rose in the American Lawyer rankings from No. 110 to No. 60 and grew from a Texas-based law firm with 4 offices to a global law firm with 23 offices, including London and Hong Kong.

Under Jerry’s leadership, she strengthened the firm’s deep commitment to diversity and inclusion, tripling the number of women and diverse lawyers in firm management and nearly doubling the number of women and diverse lawyers in practice group leadership. She received numerous recognitions for her efforts and was named One of the Top 50 Most Influential Women Lawyers by the National Law Journal and one of 30 Extraordinary Women in Texas Law by Texas Lawyer. As you can imagine, we are quite proud she is a Baylor Lawyer.

In asking Jerry to deliver remarks to our students, we did not suggest a specific topic. As is often the case when accomplished lawyers reflect on their careers, Jerry’s remarks were laden with stories about opportunities she had – because of her legal training and law degree – to positively impact and influence others. She also admonished law students to embrace the obligations they will have to serve others. She acknowledged that her law degree “changed my life but more importantly, it gave me the skills, knowledge, and power to change others’ lives, as well.”

She applauded our students’ dedication to “become a part of what I believe is still the most powerful, honorable and rewarding career a person can chose.” She then challenged them by adding, “like all things, it is what you make of it.” 

While crediting her law degree with giving her opportunities to “meet— Presidents of the US, CEOs whose names you would recognize, senators, governors, famous trial lawyers whom I had heard about and admired,” she reminded them of the many important and critical positive roles that lawyers play in the world. “Lawyers are critical to preserving, promoting and protecting the Rule of Law in Society… Lawyers daily serve as champions.”… She encouraged them to “Learn the power of your law degree and learn how to be a leader and communicator so that you can use that power for the good.”

She left them with some final notes, “if you take away one thing from my presentation tonight make it this—-Lawyers are part of the basic foundation of our society and you are about to be a part of that club…Be purposeful. Make a difference. Be a leader.”

I know we all love to have accomplished, exemplary alumni come back to share words of wisdom with current students. When they do, we all should be intentional about noting how often they speak of the role of lawyer as leader. It also is worth noting how often they attribute their true satisfaction and sense of meaning and purpose in life not to drafting a legal document or winning a legal argument but in using their legal training and law degree to making a positive difference in the lives of another.

 -LWJT