A little-studied area about the role of lawyers in the higher education C-Suite has been highlighted in my newly released book, May it Please the Campus: Lawyers Leading Higher Education. This multi-year examination of lawyer college and university presidents was undertaken as a Ph.D. dissertation in creativity.
Leading an institution of higher education is a demanding responsibility and one that requires a skillset that is comparable to those that successful lawyers must possess. Something significant is happening as the data shows that in each of the last three decades, the number of lawyers who have been appointed as college and university presidents has been doubling. By extrapolating the data from the first two decades of 2022, this trend not only continues, but by the end of the 2020s, it is likely that 10% of the sitting presidents of Carnegie classified institutions will be lawyers.
In addition to highlighting the skills and experiences that lawyers bring to campus leadership, the book explores the history of higher education focused on early lawyer presidents in the 1700s, the development of formal legal education, and the explosion in the number of law schools – leading to more lawyer faculty and more law deans actively engaged in higher education. For some, creating a pathway to the presidency through a more conventional career path of advancement within the academy. Yet, as the data reveals, a noticeable number of lawyer presidents are being tapped for these leadership opportunities with little to no prior academic experience – coming from government, the corporate world, and private law practice.
As the list of law schools providing formal leadership training grows, supported by a fairly new AALS Section on Leadership, the opportunities for lawyers to lead in different sectors outside of the traditional law practice settings are enormous.
May it Please the Campus, offers readers a treasure trove of data documenting the changing face of the campus presidency, and offering a glimpse into the backgrounds of lawyer leaders in higher education. A website that hosts a blog provides additional data, stories, and news on lawyer presidents. See, https://lawyersleadinghighered.com For example, the blog highlightsJohn Mercer Langston, the first African American lawyer president, Frances Tarlton “Sissy” Farenthold, the first woman lawyer president, and lawyer Anthony Appelwho reigned his presidency after 6 days on the job.
Please contact me with comments and suggestions for other lawyer presidents to highlight. [email protected]
As the end of summer nears and return to school looms, we are returning to the basics. For me, that means back to the beginning of this effort to support the growth of leadership development programming in legal education. I remember the early morning breakfast at the 2016 AALS meeting where Deborah Rhode and I hosted a small but enthusiastic group in the first conversation about this effort to encourage law schools to better prepare students as leaders. Encouraged by the energy at that gathering, we planned a formal Group Discussion for the 2017 AALS Annual Meeting entitledIntroducing Leadership Development into the Law School Curriculum(see notes linked).The room was packed and over-flowing! The appetite for action was exciting. We all agreed that it was time! Lawyers are leaders and leadership development should be an integral part of legal education and training.
After all manner of justifications for why we need to emphasize leadership development in legal education, we identified and acknowledge challenges and we generated ideas. Two of the challenges identified at that time were:
How do we get colleagues to support the creation of leadership development initiatives?
How do we help professors and staff colleagues incorporate leadership development into all aspects of their legal education (class, clinics, professional identity formation, career development, etc.).
For readers in the legal academy: Help at least two colleagues find ways to incorporate leadership development in their classes, programs, or other work within the school.
For readers who do not hold a full-time position in a law school: Inquire about leadership programming at your alma mater or one with which you have a relationship and offer to help.
In a case of colleagues who still think “leaders are born, not made,” victory may be convincing them that leadership development is relevant and important and can be done in law school. Even if they are not yet comfortable that they can effectively include discussions or lessons of leadership in their classrooms, maybe they will be supportive of leadership development efforts of other colleagues.
In future posts, we will discuss some suggestions for influence and action, which is after all our definition of leadership.
“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).