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Where were you when legal education went virtual?

By Leah Teague

We were on spring break! In past years, I might have been glowing in the sun (literally, glowing from too much sun on my fair skin despite my best attempts to heed my doctor’s warning); in other years, we were skiing in the mountains. But not this year. I was in Waco preparing for the Baylor Law Vision 2020 conference, working on our textbook, and trying to whittle down that ever-growing To-Do pile. It was not going to be a leisurely week no matter what! But a pandemic was not in the plan. Spring Break 2020 will forever be remembered for COVID-19.

On March 11, Dr. Linda Livingstone, our University President, announced the University would take an extra week of Spring Break and that we should be ready to start teaching online March 23rd, making up the lost week before finals. The extra week off caused us concern with only 4 weeks left on our quarter system (we normally have 9 weeks of class with 70-minute class periods). Making up a full week’s worth of classes in the remaining 4 weeks amidst all the other challenges would have been nearly impossible! So, true to the Baylor Law spirit, our law faculty sprang into action and began teaching using online platforms the following Monday with only 5 days to learn technology that most had never heard of (like Kaltura, WebEx, and Microsoft Teams). A few understood WebEx but who knew you could narrate PowerPoints?! Yes, a few classes needed extra days to get up and running, but oh my goodness, did they rise to the challenge! Converting a traditional brick and mortar law school to a virtual one in five days – WOW!

Like all of you, we at Baylor Law are now fully online AND our faculty is serving as the front line for communication with their students to offer help and support for those in need. I have seen hard-nosed professors reach out to individual students to listen, counsel and advise or direct those struggling. They are making a difference in the lives of their students and I am so proud! Together we will get through this!

Kudos to the faculty and staff across the country who are working so hard to make it happen! We are witnessing countless examples of leadership in action!

We’re now in our third week of online classes. Our faculty have been meeting (virtually, of course) every few days to make important decisions. We decided early on to stay with our grading system and to address accommodations on an individual basis. Because we are small – student population of 430 – we are better equipped to manage this decision. We spent the last three weeks determining what adjustments we can make to our policies and procedures to help our students. We quickly extended the exam period and doubled the normal number of reading days. Instead of our typically tight exam schedule, they now have a break every few days during the exam period providing more time to study in between exams.

We committed to giving students easier access to accommodations without having to pay additional tuition to take away that financial burden. We adjusted our policies with regard to drops, withdrawals, and incompletes. We added grade relief through a new tuition-free, retake policy that only applies to courses taken this term. No student will lose any scholarship, now or in the future, because of these grades. These operational decisions were thoughtfully considered and debated during numerous faculty meetings and countless emails in between. The faculty focused on prioritizing the current needs and wellness of our students while balancing the short-term vs. long-term implications to their education and professional training. I truly am blessed to work with colleagues who care so deeply for our students while also remaining dedicated to our mission of preparing our students to be ready to serve and to lead in times such as these!

Our staff also has been amazing! A skeleton crew is here with me every day to support the work of the faculty and staff working from home and to meet the needs of our minimum and essential business operations. Although they are adjusting to working from home, they want to stay connected and to help, especially to support and encourage our students. They are offering tips and advice about best practices. They are reaching out to check in. We are scheduling virtual gatherings and socials for student groups. All the while our colleagues are juggling their own home daycares, schools, delivery services, and whatever else is needed for their loved ones. I am meeting virtually with the staff once a week and our conversations focus on what can they do to help one another and our students. Truly inspiring!

Our Student Relations Committee (student leaders along with appointed faculty and staff representatives) also meet once a week to give voice to the students’ concerns and to brainstorm solutions to issues. We are hosting a leadership summit next Monday to visit with the officers of our student organizations about leading virtual meetings and events focused on their missions.

And oh my goodness has the number of emails, phone calls, and texts exploded! We are using all manner of communication vehicles to attempt to alleviate the anxiety of our students, as well as others (including us!). Faculty and staff are putting in long hours each and every day to assure the well-being, education, and professional training of our students continues, albeit, virtually.

As we tell our students, it is in times such as these that lawyers rise to the occasion. We know our alumni are out there working just as many hours, and more. They are carrying the weight of not only their clients – who are greatly impacted by the COVID-19 disruptions – but also that of their children who must be home-schooled and their high-risk loved ones who must be cared for and protected. We thank them for what they are doing to model for our students what professionalism and leadership looks like.

I had hoped to get this message typed and delivered last Thursday or Friday to mark the time that was supposed to be the Vision 2020 Leadership Conference. We were so looking forward to welcoming many of you to our beautiful city and law center. I knew, however, you would understand that a message from me could wait. A month ago, as we were deliberating what to do about the conference and I really wanted to continue with the conference but convert it to a completely virtual conference. Clearly, one of the silver linings of our current situation is the shove we all got toward acquiring new skills using technology to work and congregate virtually. How innovative it would have been to be the first to host a virtual leadership conference for law schools!

Two realities stopped us from going forward. First, the chaos of the transition for all of us to a pivot on a dime towards a new work dynamic and to learn new tools and techniques to teach and do our jobs. We have all been consumed. We were concerned about the time to pull together such a novel concept and for it be a “wow” event, which is always our goal. Second, and for me even more important, there is great benefit through the personal connections of people gathering in the same room, sharing stories over cocktails, brainstorming during breaks, and focusing on a live speaker rather than multi-tasking at your computer at home. I am not advocating that these benefits cannot occur in a virtual world. Clearly they can. Last Saturday evening I participated in my first virtual Happy Hour and I loved it! The difference is that my Happy Hour was with a small group of people with whom I already have a relationship. Developing relationships that allow for effective sharing of ideas takes time. It is hard to “meet” people and spend any meaningful time getting to know them if they are in a group gathering online with 100 people for a one-time event. This is one of the challenges of this online world of education – how to connect at a personal level when the class is large.

All that to say, we were greatly disappointed that our conference, like the rest of our events and our lives, was disrupted by COVID-19. We will set a date in the Fall as soon as we can. We hope even more of you will be able to attend in person or virtually, but mostly hoping you will be able to travel to our fun city and our beautiful building on the Brazos River to fully engage with one another.

I hope you are all doing well in our new, temporary reality!

-LJT

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Want to Change the World? The Journey Begins Within.

An inscription on the tomb of an Anglican Bishop in Westminster Abbey:

“When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world. As I grew older and wiser I discovered the world would not change – So I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country, but it too seemed immovable. As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it. And now I realize as I lie on my deathbed, if I had only changed myself first, then by example I might have changed my family. From their inspiration and encouragement I would then have been able to better my country, And who knows, I might have even changed the world.”

Before you can lead an organization or community … before you can impact the world … you must first “lead” yourself.  For us, the most important aspect of any leadership development program is to start with a focus on “growing” yourself. Easier said than done!  But why? Could it be that we are too eager to skip ahead to leaving our mark on the world? We can be so focused on doing the “important” and wanting to be remembered for what we accomplish that we forget leadership – like any other subject in law school – begins at the beginning. There is no substitute for the elemental work that feeds our growth layer by layer, branch by branch.

In our leadership development course, we spend about half our time guiding the students on a journey of self-discovery. Since we begin every orientation at Baylor Law with emphasis on the role of lawyers in society (as guardians of our democracy, trusted advisors to their clients and leaders in their communities), we do not start from ground zero in our leadership development class. We begin with a deeper discussion of our obligations to society and the important opportunities they will have to be influencers with integrity. After setting expectations for their future, we introduce them to leadership characteristics, traits, and styles, as well as various scenarios where their leadership will be needed. Starting with these concepts, terms and contexts – the language of leadership development – sets the foundation.

The core of our leadership class is devoted to helping students come to “know” themselves – their preferences, strengths, and areas of challenge. We know this is essential to prepare them for future situations that will require them to act and to make decision, or to offer guidance to those who will.  We guide our students through a series of discussions, self-assessments and self-reflective exercises designed to help them be better prepared, even practiced, for those future actions and opportunities. Just as with other areas, we know that students are more likely to handle a difficult or stressful situation, even a crisis, with competence and integrity if they have seen or at least thought about the scenario, or a similar one, at some time before. That is the wisdom and judgment gained through practice and experience.

We also spend some time in our course on what it means to “lead” others (including working well with others, recognizing the influence lawyers can have on others, and successfully building an inclusive team). We end with an attempt to inspire students to consider the impact they want to have on the world and then to be thoughtful, strategic and adaptive as they plan their next steps.  

Leadership development is a life-long journey to be better at helping others be more and accomplish more. As lawyers, our legal education and training, and our sense of honor and purpose as guardians of our democracy, make us ideally suited to impact those around us … and, yes, maybe even change the world… if we recognize early enough that it all begins with us.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln

-LJT
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Student Perspective on Leadership Development: Philip D. Ricker

Philip D. Ricker graduated from Baylor Law School in April 2019. He is currently working for the family law firm O’Neil Wysocki, P.C. in Dallas, Texas. While at Baylor Law School, he was on Law Review and also involved in a Mock Trial team.

Baylor’s leadership development training taught me not be afraid to speak up to a more-experienced attorney. I feel more confident when voicing my opinions on a legal issue or to walk down the hallway and tell a partner about a problem we need to address.

Gladiators.jpg

Ethics of an Attorney

A consistent theme of our leadership class was how to assert our ethics as attorneys.We talked extensively about the ethics of an attorney and I did not realize how much those discussions mattered until I began practicing. I often joked that lawyers are like gladiators – we go where we are told and fight who we are told to fight. After spending about 6 months in a family law firm with a 3L bar card and going through practice court, I realize how much better of an understanding the class gives gave me about ethics and the law.

Throughout the Leadership class, my classmates and I were given the opportunity to hear from numerous speakers who are leaders in areas outside of the law. I am always fascinated at the interesting twists and turns an individual’s careers take. For me, it was surprising to learn about the many different ways our speakers became leaders. We didn’t have any two speakers who follows an even remotely similar path. This is encouraging that even if you have an untraditional beginning, one can become a leader.

Baylor Law Formative Leadership

As Baylor Lawyers, I feel like we have an opportunity to emerge in leaders amongst our first and second-year peers from other schools. I was able to serve as the Notes & Comments editor of Law Review. This was another formative leadership experience at Baylor Law that helped prepare me in my future career. During that time, I had a team of three to four students who I would work with to get an upcoming article ready to publish. I found it difficult to ask someone to do something that I was not going to do. It felt uncomfortable asking someone to stay up late in the evening to edit an article when I wasn’t required to stay up and edit. Little did I know at the time, that the discomfort was preparing me for something bigger. Now that I am working at O’Neil Wysocki, P.C., I work with paralegals, legal secretaries, and other associate attorneys. Similarly, I have found myself asking someone to do something that I am not doing. For instance, I may ask a legal secretary to prepare a binder for an appellate brief or attach exhibits to a Motion for Summary Judgment. It feels UNCOMFORTABLE; however, my time at law school on law review helped me prepare for some of that discomfort. 

I think all law students need to be exposed to a leadership role. Not every law student is placed into a position of leadership, and Baylor does a good job to equip each student to be comfortable taking a step into the realm of leadership.


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

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
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The legal profession doesn’t have a leadership problem- it has a character problem

In case you missed it: “The legal profession doesn’t have a leadership problem—it has a character problem”, by Charles Edwards. Mr. Edwards post in the ABA Journal is wonderful write-up on the importance of character in leadership. As Leah and I frequently discuss with law students, leadership alone is not enough – ethical leadership is the key to long-term success. By integrating best practices into leadership courses, we are preparing our students for their future roles.

If you haven’t read it yet, Mr. Edwards post is worth the read: http://www.abajournal.com/voice/article/the-legal-profession-doesnt-have-a-leadership-problem-it-has-a-character-problem

-SLR

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Article Callout: Lawyer Leadership Secrets to Success

In case you missed it: “Lawyer Leadership Secrets to Success” by Liam Montgomery. In the style of Jocko Willink and Leif Babin (authors of Extreme Ownership), Mr. Montgomery translates lessons learned in military service to leadership for lawyers. In this article he focuses upon giving and receiving feedback – a critical skill for any leader. The article is definitely worth the read if you’re looking for more feedback material to give to students: http://www.abajournal.com/voice/article/lawyer-leadership-secret-to-success

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Article Callout: 3 Steps To Transform From Top Lawyer To Business Leader

In case you missed it: “3 Steps To Transform From Top Lawyer To Business Leader.” To never stop learning is probably the most important lesson that a leader can learn. This Forbes article explores the modern challenges that lawyer-leaders will encounter and what to do about it: to continue to expand their knowledge base, work with other, and understand data analytics. But the underlying message is more important: never stop learning.

Without further ado: https://www.forbes.com/sites/insights-klgates/2019/10/09/3-steps-to-transform-from-top-lawyer-to-business-leader/#2a906890394f

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The Role of General Counsel: Influential Members of the Team or Merely Bit Players?

The Author, Leah Teague (Center) with Baylor Lawyers Lee Roy Calderon, JD ’12 (L)
and Justin Chakrabarty, JD ’12 (R)
Leah Teague

Recently I was in front of about 150 lawyers who work in a general counsel’s office at one of the Texas public university systems – mostly Longhorn lawyers within the University of Texas system but a few Aggie lawyers mixed in. To my surprise and delight, 4 Baylor Lawyers also were in attendance. The topic was Lawyers as Leaders. The invitation was the result of an article I wrote for the Texas Bar Journal and a podcast interview with Rocky Dhir, CEO & President, Atlas Legal Research, LP and host of State Bar of Texas Podcasts, who read that article. Rocky and I were invited by Omar Syed, Associate Vice Chancellor & Deputy General Counsel for The University of Texas System and chair of the annual gathering of general counsel lawyers in Austin (who also read the article and listened to the podcast) and wanted us to present the conversation at their annual gathering. I was honored and humbled to have that opportunity to share our work and our passion for our students and the future of our profession.

In preparation, Rocky and I were encouraged to include discussions about the role of lawyers as trusted advisor and leaders. We included such advice as “get to know the departments and schools you advise,” “ask about their work and their goals before trying to solve their legal issues.” We recommended they try to understand enough about the work of the “clients” so that when they have to tell them no, they can say “You can’t do that, but…” and then work to find a solution that will meet their goals when possible. In other words, try to be a problem solver and trusted adviser who adds value – be more than a legal technician.

As the conversation continued, questions were submitted to the host electronically – nothing fancy, simply texted to his phone. One of the questions has stayed with me weeks later, almost haunting me. It went something like this, “But what if the general counsel has instructed you to NOT do anything more than strictly answer the legal question asked?” The question was not: “What if the department does not ask for more than an answer to the legal question presented?” We had addressed that scenario. Attentive lawyers often must use that request for legal advice as the springboard for probing to get the information they need (background, issues, goals, costs, etc.) to help craft an option or two or three.

As soon as the question was asked, in my lawyerly way, I began to wonder what else was behind the question. Being part of a university, I well know how territorial life can be on a campus. Had the young lawyer (at least I assumed her or him to be) overstepped and been dressed down, i.e. stay in your lane? Had the general counsel given that instruction in a particular situation for which that command made sense? Was the office so overwhelmed with work that such an instruction was necessary for survival? Was the lawyer still inexperienced, unproven or perhaps not yet trustworthy?  I don’t know but we were grateful for the validation we received when a lawyer in the audience (who had a seasoned look and demeanor) stood and basically summarized all that we had shared about the need for us, as well as society, to view lawyers as more than “bit” players only to be engaged on the periphery. We need lawyers to be valued members of the team – to be part of the group trying to solve the problem, accomplish the goal or protecting the university – not merely legal specialists.

 We ended our response with the hope that all the general counsel offices have, or work toward, an office culture in which lawyers are encouraged to reach beyond the naked legal question to establish relationships that allow the client (department, school, etc.) to view their lawyers not as nay-sayers, deal killers or legal assistants, but as valued and trusted advisors and university partners. 

Leadership entails influence and impact in positive ways. We all need to help our students see themselves as leaders who have an obligation to serve and who will have many opportunities to help and to make a difference.  To that end, I was encouraged to see several hands go up when I asked who all in the audience serves on a non-profit board or volunteers in a service or pro-bono legal organization.  Part of law school must include a call to arms to all law students, encouraging them to roll up their sleeves and help their communities, thereby showcasing lawyer leadership at a grassroots level.

-LWJT