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.
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
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
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.
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.
As we work to establish leadership
development as a recognized academic pursuit in legal education, we are met
with questions of definition, distinction and purpose. An often-asked question,
even among us who are pursuing the study of leadership in the context of the
legal profession, is what is the difference between professional
responsibility, professionalism (also referred to as professional identity,
formation or development) and leadership. This is a start. I have no doubt my
thoughts will continue to take shape as we continue conversations and work.
As lawyers we must abide by a code of
professional responsibility. The outer boundaries of unactionable conduct is
set by principles established in the code. Law students learn these rules as
minimums – that which they MUST do or not do to avoid scrutiny for a violation
and to avoid an appearance of impropriety. Students are tested on these rules.
Law firms have committees that consider ethical issues and make decisions for
their lawyers. Bar associations have committees for reviewing rules, advising
lawyers and taking action when lawyers step outside the boundaries. Self-regulation
of lawyers’ conduct is essential to maintaining our independence and our
privileged status with powers and opportunities.
But as we often discuss in law school,
or at least we should, the code of professional responsibility will not determine
who you are as a lawyer, what type of cases or clients you will represent, how
you will practice law, or how you will be remembered.
What does it mean to be a member of a
profession that has a rich history of status and privilege earned by rigorous
intellectual pursuit and legal training?
Here are some of the questions raised as we try to define our
professional identity and to better prepare our students to enter the
profession that has long been considered a noble pursuit, but also a profession
that is perhaps less favored and respected in recent decades:
Who are we as
What is our role
What does the
public expect of us?
And on an individual basis, we ask our
students to consider what kind of lawyer they want to be.
With our legal training & law
degree we have an obligation to serve our clients and society. From the ABA Model Rules of Professional
Conduct, Preamble: A Lawyer’s Responsibilities, “[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.”
As Alexis de Tocqueville recognized in
the 1830s, the role of lawyers as keepers of the rule of law and the special
training of lawyers as problem solvers and advocates ensured for us “a separate
station in society.” When he labeled lawyers as the “American Aristocracy,” he used
that title in the European tradition from which he came – where lords were
responsible for their charges. The privilege of wealth and power carried with
it a privileged duty to protect. For American lawyers, our charge is our
democracy. Our special status arose
because lawyers were viewed as more than mere providers of legal services. We
have an obligation to serve not only our clients but also society.
As lawyers, more is expected of us by
the public. And by that I mean, with the acquisition of our privilege – law
degree and legal training – the public has an expectation of us that obligates
us to live up to a higher set of principles and standards than a citizen who is
not a member of our profession.
As I tell our students during
orientation, the Latin root of profession is professieum – to make a public
declaration or to take an oath. When I ask them to name the three vocations
considered to be the original “professions,” it does not take them long to name
“doctors, lawyers and clergy.” We then discuss what common attributes these
three share. Answers include “education and training;” “expectation to live an
exemplary live” or at least “higher expectations;” “less forgiveness for human
error;” and this is one of my favorites, “doctors take care of the body, clergy
minister to the soul, and lawyers take care of live in a community – rights,
liberties and property interests.” What
becomes clear to them through the discussion is that our privilege comes with
expectations and obligations to conduct ourselves in a manner befitting of our
noble profession, which includes service.
Leadership development should go
beyond a focus on defining lawyers’ behavior and actions in terms of
expectation and obligation to serve clients and communities. Lawyers have the opportunity
to guide and influence clients and serve in their communities. Lawyers are
leaders and as such that is part of our professional identity. Yet leadership
development requires a different type of attention and training than
professional development. Leadership development should start with professional
development, i.e. self-awareness and self-assessment – the “who am I as a
lawyer?” But then we must move to looking at the opportunities we have as
lawyers to have a positive influence and impact on society.
Throughout history, lawyers have
played a critical role in shaping stable, peaceful and prosperous societies. Leadership
seeks to develop lawyers who not only have mastery of self but also are
inspired to make a difference. Our legal training, our law license and
professional status afford us daily opportunities to influence individuals,
behaviors, transactions, organizations, communities and society. Now more than
ever, we need lawyers to recognize not only our obligation to serve society,
but also opportunities afforded to us because of our professional status and
education and then to use our position and training to make a positive
difference in the lives of their clients and communities. We, as the
teachers, coaches and mentors to the next generations of lawyers, need to
do a better job of equipping them and inspiring them to rise up and seek those
opportunities to positively impact society.
The need for leaders in our
communities, in our country, has never been greater. A survey by the Harvard
Center for Public Leadership found that over two-thirds of Americans think the
nation has a leadership crisis. Some believe our nation has never been more
complex, polarized, and siloed than now. We need leaders who have vision,
values, integrity and the ability to see beyond the narrow perspectives of one
side. We need lawyers to step up and play more active roles in their
Lawyers offer many skill
sets that are helpful in accomplishing goals and effectuating change. Law
schools develop students’ proficiencies in identifying and analyzing issues and
problems, and in communicating clearly and persuasively as necessary. Lawyers
know that negotiation and compromise may be necessary to move past gridlock.
Our code of professional conduct establishes an expectation of civility and
integrity in our actions.
Will we recognize that lawyers’ highest and best use is not as legal technicians (although that will sure be required)? Will we remember that our role as legal analysts, advocates and problem solvers allow us to effectively counsel and influence clients and organizations?
But the legal profession is at a crossroads as well. What will be the role of lawyers in society in the future? The profession is forever changed—we have an inkling of what’s to come with technology and the impact of artificial intelligence on our profession, but we don’t really know the full implications. Which of our traditional lawyering tasks will be automated? How will we adapt? Will we recognize that lawyers’ highest and best use is not as legal technicians (although that will sure be required)? Will we remember that our role as legal analysts, advocates and problem solvers allow us to effectively counsel and influence clients and organizations? Will we finally find a way to stem the tide of mistrust in lawyers and lack of faith in the institution that is our system of democracy and its rule of law?
Planning for what society needs from lawyers in the future is why we should begin to think about skills beyond learning substantive law or technical skills, which have been the focus of law schools traditionally. The skill sets needed as counselors and leaders—those who are going to help clients and organizations work through their issues—are going to be even more important to lawyers in the future. They will be just as important as professional responsibility, ethics, and service to the public. Leadership should be equally pervasive in our language as we teach our students about our obligations and opportunities as lawyers.
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Why Leadership Development for Lawyers?
As the co-founders of the Baylor Leadership Development Program and early adopters of the leadership movement in legal education, we established this blog to address several questions:
(1) What do we mean by leadership development?
(2) Why are these efforts important and relevant to individuals - law students and lawyers?
(3) As guardians of the rule of law and defenders of our democracy, how can these efforts benefit our profession and our country?
(4) What does leadership development look like for lawyers and how is it different from leadership development for other professions?
All of us who have started a leadership development program or class (as well as those who attempted to do so) are commonly faced with questions and preconceived notions such as: Aren’t leaders born not made? Why should law schools devote attention to leadership when so few lawyers will serve as a managing partner of their firm? How is a leadership course in law school different from the leadership program or course from their high school or college days?
Promoting a National Movement
We will address these questions (and more) in this blog. For those who have leadership programs or classes, we hope you will share your challenges faced and wisdom gained. We hope all will join in the conversation. Just as we know civil discourse results in better outcomes, we know that engaging in robust discussions around these questions can lead to more effective conversations and programming in law schools, bar associations and legal offices throughout the nation.