You may remember a few years ago when “Mayhem,” the character from the Allstate Insurance Company ad campaign, turned over a new leaf, choosing to be helpful rather than creating havoc for which he had become known. It was the beginning of the New Year, and like most New Year’s resolutions, Mayhem’s resolve lasted only a couple of weeks before he reverted to his old habits.
Let’s be real: resolving to break an old habit and create a new one, or just forming a new habit without breaking an old one, is really hard. Research suggests that the time it takes to form a habit is highly varied among individuals, ranging from as little as 18 days to as many as 254. However, that something is hard is not a reason to forego trying.
So, we’re going to try something new: A series of 30-day challenges to encourage building or enhancing good leadership habits. We harbor no illusion that 30 days is sufficient for most of us form a last-lasting habit. The idea of a 30-day challenge is not even original to us. However, if not the start of a lasting habit, perhaps 30 days of focusing on a specific leadership goal will result in some modest improvement or modification in one’s leadership skills.
We plan to participate in each of the challenges. We hope that you will too, and that you’ll share your thoughts with us about how it’s going. Stay tuned for the first challenge, coming up in a few days.
“It’s a shameful irony that the occupation that produces the nation’s greatest share of leaders does so little to prepare them for that role.”[i]
Deborah Rhode often repeated this observation as we launched this movement in legal education to better equip law students for future leadership roles. She challenged law schools to be more intentional about inspiring law students to be difference-makers in the world around them.
As you undoubtedly know by now, the legal community suffered a heart-breaking loss on January 12, 2021, with the passing of Deborah Rhode, who served as the Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law and the Director of the Center on the Legal Profession at Stanford Law School. Even more grievous is the loss to society of her unfinished business. She had much more wisdom, insight, and guidance to share (as well as her cajoling and agitation at appropriate times) pushing us forward to form that more perfect union envisioned in the foundations of our democracy.
“She was a titan of the legal profession—one of our nation’s preeminent voices on legal ethics, but also a champion for the interests of the underserved and a pioneer in the cause of gender equality,” shared Dr. Amalia Kessler, Stanford. [ii]
Her former Dean Paul Brest said, “Deborah was a pioneer and leader in every field she touched—sex discrimination, professional responsibility, pro bono legal practice, women and leadership, and just plain leadership. She aspired to be the very best in every endeavor, including racquetball, where she professed not to care about winning but played with focus and drive and truly loved to win. We will all miss her, but her imprint on the legal profession and academy will endure.” [iii]
Stanford Law Dean Gillian Lester shared, “Her books and articles centered on a constellation of subjects that she linked together in important ways: professional responsibility, lawyer-leadership, gender equality. She wrote beautifully, in an accessible, policy-relevant, and often humorous style, but one never mistook her use of humor for a lack of urgency, nor the accessibility of her work for lack of rigor.”
“This slight, seemingly delicate woman was a gigantic figure in the study of the legal profession and in movements to reform it. She was one of a small handful of pioneers who in the 1970s and 80s began to transform the study of the legal profession and legal ethics into a serious field of scholarship,” added her colleague Professor Robert W. Gordon.
Added another of her co-authors, Scott Cummings, Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law, “Deborah defined new fields and redefined old concepts: legal ethics, leadership, access to justice, antidiscrimination law, and many others. She founded the field of legal ethics, infused it with intellectual rigor, and insisted that it stand for values of justice, access, and equality. She not only made it legitimate to study lawyers, and their role in society, but made it possible to demand that they live up to their very highest principles—and never hesitated to call them out when the failed.” [iv]
Deborah was a world-renowned scholar with 30 books and over 200 articles to her credit. I found her both awe-inspiring and intimidating when I first met her in 2014 as we served on a panel to discuss women’s leadership in higher education. When we finished, I gathered the courage to approach her, to share my ideas, and to seek her help with another reform needed in legal education. At that time, I did not know about her what others experienced in her presence:
“Luminary that she was, she somehow always found the time and energy to extend herself on behalf of others,” offered Professor Engstrom. [v]
“As soon as I arrived on the Stanford faculty, she took me under her wing, providing a sounding board, mentorship, tough love, and steadfast devotion. She had a huge heart, a quick wit, and a spine of steel,” shared Professor Shirin Sinnar. [vi]
I came to know that spine of steel softened by the generosity of time and spirit she lent to an effort she recognized as imperative to the future of the legal profession. Because she well understood the critical role of law in society, she also realized the importance to our democracy in preparing lawyer-leaders who are ready, willing, and able to step into action.
Others shared stories of the time with Deborah as she walked and talked while mentoring and collaborating. For example,
“Rhode walked the walk with mentoring—quite literally. Her walks were legendary; she regularly invited colleagues, especially more junior colleagues, to walk with her to provide support and mentorship. I always admired the candor, authenticity, warmth, care for one’s well-being, and commitment to service that Deborah modeled throughout all my interactions with her over the years, including those regular afternoon walks.” [vii]
In her honor, Stanford Law issued a call #WalkWithDeborah to honor her with posts about our walks in her honor last Saturday. I created a Twitter account for the sole purpose of honoring her with a walk and a picture in tribute to her leadership textbook.
Not only did she have tremendous sway within the academy and the practicing bar, leaders from a multitude of disciplines and backgrounds listened and learned and answered her calls to action. Mark Chandler, Chief Legal Officer, Chief Compliance, Officer and EVP at Cisco Systems shared, “She had an almost unique ability to bring together scholars, law firm leaders and corporate counsel to confront challenges and take advantage of opportunities to do more. From my first meeting with her, through today, she made me better at what I do.” As Mariano-Florentino “Tino” Cuéllar, Justice of the Supreme Court of California, stated, “Deborah was a sterling example of the very best that both of her professions offered the world. As a scholar she was honest, creative, accessible and prolific; as a lawyer she was devoted to public service and integrity.”[viii]
I was one of the privileged to know Deborah. I will forever treasure my time working side-by-side with her to find those kindred spirits across the academy and to grow the body of believers as we created the AALS Section of Leadership. Without question, because of her leadership and her stellar reputation within the academy the study of leadership has grown quickly to be recognized as a serious field of legal scholarship and a foundational and teachable subject in law schools. It is up to us to continue her legacy.
Based on what we are witnessing in our nation, our work is more important than ever. Our mission is to encourage law students and lawyers to embrace their obligation to serve clients and society, to better equip students for positions of leadership and influence, and to inspire law students and lawyers to boldly seek opportunities to be difference makers. We will honor Deborah’s legacy with each leadership lamp we light.
[i] Deborah Rhode, Raising the Bar: Lawyers and Leadership, Forward Vol. 69 Stanford L Rev.(2017).
Caught up in my own little world last Wednesday, busily working on my tasks, I had no idea what was happening until a student shared the news during a phone conversation that evening. My thoughts and feelings as I tried to catch up on the events of the day:
• Shock at the images of violence
• Saddened for the victims and their families
• Disbelief at the disrespect by Americans for the sanctity of our nation’s house of government
• Concern for our democracy
• Embarrassment for our country
• Shameful lack of leadership by a man this country entrusted with the Presidency
• Sad, dark day in our history
And then the images of our elected representatives determined to do their job in spite of the events. Their resolve to ensure our democracy strengthened because of the actions of those who chose to violate our nation’s Capitol.
As we celebrated the ending of 2020, many of us thought we were turning the page in history to a better year – surely 2021 would bring a new and brighter day – only to be confronted on January 6 with the destruction and chaos and loss of life that occurred in the Capitol. May we each do all in our power to prevent that from ever happening again.
As teachers, trainers, and mentors of the next generation of lawyer-leaders, we hope you will join us in renewing our commitment and re-doubling our efforts to:
• inspire our law students to willingly acknowledge, and eagerly accept, their obligation as lawyers to serve the public and protect our democracy,
• encourage our law students to courageously seek opportunities, using their legal knowledge, training, and experience, to wisely and justly lead in their communities, and
• better prepare our law students to be leaders for change that will move our nation toward becoming a more perfect union.
Please let us know how we can help you in your work. Please also share your ideas for how we can work together to increase and grow leadership development initiatives across all law schools.
Charles Dicken’s 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, more commonly known simply as A Christmas Carol, is a perennial favorite of millions of people during the Christmas season. The story centers around Ebenezer Scrooge, a selfish and unlikable miser who hates Christmas. The story has been retold, reworked, and recreated dozens (or perhaps hundreds) of times in plays, movies, and books.
As we approach the Christmas holiday in 2020… I thought it would be fun to take a quick look at the valuable leadership lessons we can glean from this classic story:
Leadership Lessons from Christmas Past
We must constantly remind our students that good leaders learn from their mistakes and strive to not repeat them in the future. Babies don’t learn to walk without falling down, repeatedly. All of us, no matter how accomplished we are in our profession, have had to face failures, some of our own doing, some thrust upon us. Some of the best – and most memorable lessons we learn come from these mistakes and failures. In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge was forced to face the mistakes he had made and the opportunities that he had missed. In the end, he recognized that he could never change the past, but he had the opportunity to learn from his mistakes and ensure they were not repeated in the future. We must teach our law students to do the same. The past can’t be changed. But as Professor Walt Shelton shared recently, each of us should, on a regular basis, openly and honestly analyze our successes and failures and try to learn the lessons that each have to offer.
Leadership Lessons from Christmas Future
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that as humans, we have incredibly limited ability to predict future events. If we had been asked two or three years ago to predict how many of the nation’s law schools would be teaching their curriculum online during a pandemic – none of us would even come close to a correct prediction. None of us know with certainty what the future holds. The only thing certain about the future is uncertainty. With the rapidly changing circumstances, technology, and social mores in the world today, it is more important than ever that we train our law students to be proactive, flexible, and adaptable. Dean Teague has emphasized in recent posts the importance of training our students with grit and resilience. These are traits that can be learned – and implemented.
Is your law school promoting a culture of empowerment and change? Are you focused on the future or stuck in the past doing the same things, in the same way, and surprised with the same outcomes? Scrooge didn’t just learn from his visit to Christmas Future, he was willing to adapt and make much-needed changes. If we take this even further, we can see that when he changed, he became someone who supported, encouraged, and empowered others to succeed. A wonderful change indeed!
Leadership Lessons from Christmas Present
As Scrooge learned, changing the future requires making difficult – and sometimes painful – changes in the present.
According to the Texas Young Lawyers Association, the legal profession is “buckling under the weight of stress, anxiety, substance use, and depression.” For many, the holiday season, rather than being a time of relaxation and reflection, simply amplifies already high stress levels. As if the legal profession wasn’t stressful enough, the holidays can increase pressures on your time and resources — shopping, baking, decorating, and entertaining, just to name a few. The spread of COVID-19 is adding to an already stressful time – and many of us are worried about how to celebrate the season without endangering ourselves or others. It can all be too much!
This Christmas season, carve some time out of your schedule to relax and recharge. Turn off your work email for a few days (or weeks!) and spend time some doing something you truly enjoy. Read a good book, focus on a favorite hobby, take some good long walks, or simply binge-watch a few sappy Hallmark Christmas Specials. 2021 will be here before we know it – and the demands on your time will resume. Model good mental health and wellness for your students this Holiday season.
From all of us here at Baylor Law’s Training Lawyers as Leaders Blog… we wish you a wonderful holiday season.
This post is a guest post by Professor Walt Shelton. The Daily Practice of Life by Professor Shelton is a wonderful book and would make an excellent stocking stuffer if you still need to pick up some Christmas gifts! Here’s a link to buy it now on Amazon.
The Practice of Effective Leadership
What is the most important characteristic of an authentic and influential leader? Character. A stellar group leader is first and foremost a very good person, a role model in demeanor and behavior. An effective leader emanates the “feel” of being part of the group rather than “above it.” There is never any hint of attitudinal superiority. Rather, respected leaders talk with instead of to their group in tone and substance. Additionally, they work hands on like everyone else, as part of the group instead of its boss in group-related projects and activities.
Are Attorneys “Leaders”?
The Preamble to the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct declares that our “incentive [is] to attain the highest possible degree of ethical conduct ” (Section 9, emphasis added). As members of our time-honored profession, we must aspire to this objective in our practice and representation of clients, and more so, in how we live and balance our priorities in life. Lawyer jokes aside, we should accept leadership roles with humility and assume a servant-oriented leadership mentality. We should give no hint of arrogance or partiality in our speech or conduct. Rather, drawing from Judeo-Christian and other authentic faith-related traditions, true leadership includes exercising and modeling compassion, kindness, and gentleness, as well as pursuing justice in our work and daily affairs.
Recognize That You Are a Role Model
In legal and all other contexts, people acknowledge and actually follow leaders that they respect. Like it or not, life-quality and implementing excellent leadership skills are intertwined. Similar to children with parents, people watch how leaders live, what they do and live out, more than hearing what leaders say. Group members pay special attention to how their leaders react to difficult and challenging circumstances. Thus, qualitative daily living lays the foundation (or not) for people actually wanting tolisten to you (actions and words) and embrace your position as a leader.
Owning Our Mistakes and Resolving to Improve
No one is perfect. Leaders are often in the spotlight and scrutinized in their behavior and decision-making. Whatever the context, including legal representation, actively serving as a leader, or simply how we live each moment, when we err, we must own it. Subsequent to falling down, we apologize, implement a plan to personally remedy any harm, and resolve to improve. No one knows everything, including persons in leadership positions and recognized for their expertise. Anyone with an omniscient presence is not qualified to lead. “I don’t know” are among the smartest and most honest words leaders can ever speak. Following not knowing with diligently finding out and acting constructively upon it strengthens our leadership position and future performance.
Periodic “Self Auditing” is Important
Learning from experiences and reflecting upon them is an important yet often underrated mechanism toward more qualitative living and leadership. Taking the time for periodic, solitary, and unrushed hard looks at how we are living and leading others relative to our intentions and priorities is an excellent and necessary practice. True self-reflection results in progressive improvement. For example, we can pick a time of the year, such as the beginning of fall or a new year, as a season for this formative type of introspection to consider our priorities and goals in life, including leadership objectives. Honestly examining how we lived and performed over the past year, or some shorter period of time, relative to what we really care about in life and leadership provides a wealth of information. It allows us to: (1) understand and, as necessary, re-assess our goals; and (2) establish new habits toward the hard work of changing for the better. We can further enhance our effectiveness when we couple it with daily routines to focus and remind ourselves of our priorities as people, attorneys, and leaders: people who we would respect and want to follow.
Walt Shelton is one of the most well-read faith and life-quality columnists in Texas. He has been a part time Professor at Baylor Law for 30 years and has led faith and life-quality related discussion groups for almost 40 years. Professor Shelton also frequently speaks to other groups on ethical, legal, faith, and life related subjects. His book, The Daily Practice of Life: Practical Reflections Toward Meaningful Living (CrossLink Publishing 2020) is available at or through most book stores. Professor Shelton’s book includes an Appendix with ideas for leading small groups. These include always being prepared and flexible, allowing for open yet unforced discussion, listening more than talking, and respectfully embracing differences of opinion.
Firing off an angry missive in the heat of rage is astonishingly easy and amazingly impersonal, particularly when sent via email, text, or some other electronic form. We all know that people often say in writing things they would shrink from saying in person. After all, the writer isn’t looking the target of his anger in the eye but venting at an inanimate screen.
During the Women Leaders Panel at our recent 2020 Vision Leadership Conference, Dean Melissa Essary admits that when she received a long, angry screed from a colleague, she was tempted to respond in kind. She opted not to give in to the temptation, however. Watch the video or review the transcript of that panel discussion to see how Dean Essary chose to handle the situation. Suffice it to say, her approach involved face-to-face conversation and engaged listening, with plans for more conversation.
Dean Essary and the other accomplished women on the panel shared what they learned on the path to becoming leaders. We hope you’ll check out this session, as well as others from the Vision 2020 Leadership Conference.
Dr. Mary Landon Dardenknows a thing or two about leadership. For her doctoral thesis, Dr. Darden studied the traits of successful university presidents, and she has since written two books. In thinking about leaders in the context of the recent presidential election, Dr. Darden wrote in this recent column a summary of the characteristics of the ideal university president.
We think that her suggestions are relevant to successful lawyer leaders as well.
In my family we love Thanksgivings so much that we have multiple gatherings to accommodate extended family schedules. Big traditional meal on Thursday followed by at least one more (typically non-traditional, like Tex-Mex) on Friday or Saturday. One tradition is to go around the table with each person expressing gratitude for someone or some tangible or intangible thing in our lives. In most years it is easy to give thanks at Thanksgiving for the blessings in our life. But this year is different.
Still, even in this year marred with tragedies that will be marked and remembered in history, each of us can identify reasons to be thankful. So, we will observe this tradition this year. Whether in a small, socially-distanced back-yard gathering or virtually, we will count our blessings one by one. This act of sharing gratitude not only brings us closer as a family, but also creates a sense of peace and positivity within each of us. Knowing it produces such a favorable effect, why don’t we do this more than once a year?
My question for you today is: could we change the world if we all had a regular practice of gratitude? Research suggests we could!
Lawyers who are happy and healthy are better able to perform professionally and more likely to positively impact the world around them. Encouraging law students and lawyers to develop a practice of gratitude should be part of our effort to develop lawyers as leaders.
One suggestion from the father of positive psychology Martin Seligman, as recommended in his book Authentic Happiness, is to write daily letters of gratitude. A practice of gratitude could be spending a few minutes each day to write a “gratitude” email to someone expressing appreciation for them even if you have not seen them in a while. In the age of electronic communication, a hand-written note can be even more meaningful.
We wish you a blessed and Happy Thanksgiving gathering with loved ones, whether in person or virtually.
The greatest gift one can give is thanksgiving. In giving gifts, we give what we can spare, but in giving thanks, we give ourselves.”
At the risk of wading into a partisan political dispute and appearing to take sides, we feel compelled to reflect on the controversy surrounding the international law firm Jones Day. According to the New York Times, some senior Jones Day lawyers are raising concerns about the firmâs representation of Donald Trump in his challenges to presidential election. They are concerned that the firm may be pressing arguments that lack evidence and tend to undermine the integrity of the election. Employees of the firm Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, also representing Trump in his election challenges, have expressed similar concerns.
We take no position on either firms’ representation of the President. That said, it is worth considering and remembering the duty that lawyers owe not only to their clients, but the larger community. The preamble to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct states,
The lawyer, as a member of the legal profession, is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.
An attorney’s first
duty is to her client. We owe our clients zealous representation; our work
should always be guided by our clients’ goals, using our knowledge and skills
to get them as close to those goals and the law and facts will allow. Our duty,
however, is not an unqualified duty. Indeed, the sanctions that courts may
impose on attorneys who file frivolous claims or make specious arguments give
proof to the obligation attorneys owe beyond their clients. My client made me
do it is not a defense in these cases.
Moreover, lawyers can never lose sight of the full obligation owed to clients. A good lawyer is not simply a hired gun, retained to do whatever a client demands without question. Rather, good lawyers are also wise counselors, helping their clients to consider the implications of their goals. As we wrote in our upcoming book Fundamentals of Lawyer Leadership,
The lawyer must move beyond the theoretical question posed to the [lawyer as a] technical expert and provide realistic guidance on what the client can and should do.
Embarking upon a strategy that lacks evidence or support in the law may in fact cause harm to a client beyond the immediate case. And if our clients wish to continue on their preferred path notwithstanding our wise counsel, perhaps withdrawal from representation is the next consideration.
These cases do not
present easy answers. No lawyer should ever shrink from representing
controversial clients, taking hard cases, or offering novel theories. However,
lawyers must always remember that as officers of the court, our duty is to the
pursuit of justice.
As I write this, our nation waits anxiously for who will win
the presidential election. I use the word ‘win’ advisedly, as it seems
difficult to conceive of a result that will be accepted with grace and
unification by those on the ‘losing’ side. Bitter disputes make for more
difficult times after resolution, and this is as true in a legal setting such
as a trial as in this electoral cycle. The participation trophy does not apply;
these are binary situations in which there is a winner and a loser. The challenge
for leadership, then, lies in how to proceed in such a deeply divisive and
potentially disappointing time.
For the winner, leadership requires modeling grace and
conciliation. While victory feels good, the real challenge is moving forward in
a way that recognizes the struggle and humanity of your opponent. We learned
the lesson of punitive victory following World War I with the Treaty of
Versailles. WWI’s victors felt the need to exact retribution from the Germans,
placing a crushing burden on the country both financially and emotionally. This
was an understandable desire given the unbelievable toll of the war, but the
consequence was another more horrific war. We will never know how world events
would have unfolded with a more conciliatory plan to move forward; we know with
irrefutable evidence the damage that a cruel victory exacted.
Lawyer are experienced in situations where there are winners
and losers. Whether in trial or
negotiating a deal, there likely will be a winner, and the party on the losing
side may reel at the impact of that decision. Sometimes the impact is
financial; sometimes it is emotional; oftentimes it involves both. Lawyers can
play a vital role in helping colleagues, friends, families, and communities find
a graceful way to move forward and bring healing to what is a difficult situation
for both sides.
What of the losing party: how do you deal with difficult news
you did not want to hear? How as a lawyer do you advise a client or bolster the
morale of a team? This requires true courage and thoughtfulness. First, you
have to help the team and client accept the outcome, especially if it
represents the true end of the road. In many ways, accepting a known outcome,
albeit difficult, is easier than one which remains uncertain. Second, debrief
and learn the lessons of the loss. This may mean examining processes or
leadership decisions; it may simply require an understanding that lawyers are not
in the outcome control business. Either way, help your team learn, accept, and
move on. Finally, have a plan for going forward. More senior lawyers can help
younger lawyers, and law students, learn how to bounce back and developing resilience
as a team strength happens most effectively following a loss. Success is not
about how high you bounce, it is about how high you bounce back after hitting
bottom. A team that cannot bounce back is fundamentally flawed; leading your
team back to confidence is vital.
Our country will need to internalize these leadership lessons
in the coming months. No one will ‘win’ this election if we do not learn that
we must come together for the country, not for an individual or ideology. Our
leaders, whoever they may be, will win only if they reunite the country rather
than divide them more deeply. The current course is not sustainable; we must
move forward with the help of strong and compassionate leadership.