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We’ll Always be Developing as Professionals: Reflections on the Relationship Among Professional Development, Pro Bono Practice, the Law School Classroom, and the Private Practice of Law

Special Guest Post By:

Angela Schultz, Assistant Dean for Public Service, Marquette University Law School 

As we wrap up National Volunteer Month and transition into May, our focus in this blog shifts from the importance of volunteer service to the importance of mental health. We asked Angela Schultz, Asst. Dean for Public Service at Marquette Law School and current Chair of the AALS Section on Pro Bono and Public Service Opportunities, to write about the “why” behind pro bono. She chose – and we thought this was brilliant – to interview a couple of volunteers with the Marquette pro bono program. As you will see in the post, they discuss how pro bono is not only good for the clients – it’s also good for the lawyers.

Thank you, Angela, for writing a great post!


This morning I supervised a brief legal advice clinic on Zoom. Six lawyers and six law students gathered to provide legal advice to twelve clients during a two-hour period. One of the volunteer lawyers, Dan, is a recent law school graduate and is in private practice with a large firm. His focus is mergers and acquisitions in healthcare systems. He deals with layers of bureaucracy, complicated laws, managing client expectations, and ticking clocks as legal deadlines approach. Today, Dan worked alongside Shana, a 1L, to serve two pro bono clients. The first was seeking a return of their security deposit. The second was looking for help with a claim for unpaid wages. Dan and Shana got to work and spent about 50 minutes with each client. When we debriefed afterward, I asked them for their reflections. Here is some of what they shared.

Dan, mergers and acquisitions of large healthcare systems seems a world away from the pro bono practice you do at this clinic. Are there similarities?

Pro bono involvement, from law school through now, has been the place where I have developed most of my client interview skills. Both pro bono clients today needed to chart out for me the steps they had already taken—and that’s something I routinely do in my M&A cases. If my business client has filed a new LLC, I need to know because a clock is now ticking on a particular legal deadline. If a pro bono client has vacated their apartment on a particular date, I need to know because a clock is now ticking for their landlord to communicate with them about the security deposit. It’s the same set of skills.

Shana, the classroom is a demanding place in law school. The work requires a high level of attention and a lot of time. Why did you decide to make a place for pro bono service on top of the demands of the classroom?

I don’t have lawyers in my family. The pro bono clinics are the first place I had access to observing a lawyer do their job. That was my first reason for signing up. But then I started to understand the justice gap and how necessary the clinics are for people navigating legal matters without a lawyer. Now I’m hooked. And while the classroom is where I learn a lot of theory, the clinics are I learn a lot of practical skills. I have watched lawyers be very direct with clients. Last week I heard a lawyer tell the client she believed he was minimizing his abusive behaviors towards his child’s mother. I would have imagined that was a hard or scary thing to do. But the lawyer did it in a very matter-of-fact style that seemed non-judgmental but also non-forgiving. The client actually agreed. It was inspiring to see and made me feel less afraid of having such straightforward conversations.

Dan, your practice is obviously quite demanding and time-consuming. What makes you set aside time for pro bono?

My practice can be all-consuming. I spend many early mornings, late nights, and weekends dedicated to my clients’ business goals. But my pro bono practice allows me to maintain perspective. The dollar values involved in my private practice are a world away from the dollar values on the table in the pro bono clinic, but the implications to my clients’ daily lives are also worlds apart. The billion-dollar deal does not implicate where my client’s child will sleep that night. The pro bono eviction case does implicate my client’s housing and may determine where their child sleeps that night. I refuse to let my practice, admittedly in an ivory tower, blind me to the challenges facing everyday people. And one more thing: if lawyers don’t get involved to close the justice gap, who will? It’s our job. We’re actually the only ones who can do it.

Shana, as your first year of law school comes to a close, what words of wisdom would you share with a rising 1L?

The days will seem very long but the year will fly by. Meet as many new people as you can and don’t be afraid to ask questions. I watch every lawyer in every pro bono clinic ask questions. They find other lawyers to consult with and they seek out the clinic supervisors every time. It’s a relief to know being a lawyer doesn’t require you to “know it all.” It seems that being a lawyer means taking on a career involving lifelong learning. Lean into it. I guess we’ll always all be developing as professionals.

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Leadership and Public Service

Image Based on Materials Created by freepik – www.freepik.com

Special Guest Post By:

Sue Schechter, Director, Field Placement Program and Faculty Co-Director, Pro Bono Program, UC Berkeley School of Law; and

Erin Bair, Assistant Director, Career Development Office, Loyola Law School/Los Angeles

In thinking about Leadership and Public Service, we went back to the all-important Model Rules that many of us rely upon throughout our professional lives.

As many of you know, the Model Rules of Professional Conduct begin with a Preamble that calls upon us to, “…devote professional time and resources and use civic influence to ensure equal access to our system of justice for all those who because of economic or social barriers cannot afford or secure adequate legal counsel. A lawyer should aid the legal profession in pursuing these objectives and should help the bar regulate itself in the public interest.” There are many days when we wish that law students would have to memorize, write, and daily repeat these sentences to reinforce not only their importance but to remember we all made this agreement when we entered this noble profession.

Then we moved to Model Rule 6.1, which is where many of us go when we want to teach students about the importance of pro bono and the lawyers’ role in making our legal system more accessible to all: Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. A lawyer should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono publico legal services per year….

As we pondered these two foundational entries in the Model Rules, we wondered how this relates to the concept of leadership, what does it mean to be a leader who cares about public service, and can you be a leader and not care about public service? We think not. Furthermore, we think that if you are only focusing on the benefit you are giving and not the benefit you are receiving, you might be missing out, both in terms of personal satisfaction and professional growth.

We think being a leader means doing action that is in alignment with your values and that law is a service profession at its heart.  Through our schools’ pro bono and public service programs, we simultaneously fulfill our commitment to public service and instill the importance of service, as well as our skills, competencies, and experience, in the next generation of legal practitioners. 

And though this all sounds altruistic, we think you will find that at the end of the day, you will benefit most. We tend to think effective leaders have all the answers. We tend to think of leadership as a static status. When we remember that at its heart lies action, we realize that the actions required are based on humility: centering on the persons we are assisting and asking the right questions. Though we are desperately needed for our knowledge, we cannot impart it without building relationships. It is through relationships – not our knowledge or our status – that we demonstrate true leadership.

Pro bono and public service provides an opportunity to build our relational skills with emerging lawyers and the clients who have put their trust in us. These skills will transcend these relationships. Building our relationship muscles will take us farther as professionals, colleagues, family members, and community leaders than our knowledge alone ever could.

We think the fundamental questions we all need to be asking each other, and even more importantly, asking those we are assisting, is what does service mean to them, how will they serve, and how will they use their experience to reach the goals for which we all strive – access to justice for all?

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Ways To Promote Pro Bono and Public Service

By Stephen Rispoli

April is National Volunteer Month. To celebrate, this month’s focus is service. The calling as lawyers to be servant leaders is needed now more than ever. We spend considerable time helping our law students develop their professional identities. Service should be a significant component. As our first post in this series, we hope to collect and share information about how law schools promote pro bono and public service.

At Baylor Law, we recently hosted our annual Student Awards Ceremony, where we recognized our students who have gone above and beyond in their pro bono service. We encourage students to engage in service during law school by recognizing them for the number of hours volunteered or their contributions in specific programs, such as the Veterans Clinic. Recognition in the Pro Bono and Public Service Program starts at 50 hours and builds up to 225+ hours, at which point the student is recognized at graduation as a Public Interest Fellow (as long as the student has also completed some specific public interest focused coursework).

YOUR HELP IS NEEDED!

We would love to see other examples of ways to encourage future lawyers to make service an important part of their professional formation. Please tell us how you encourage service at your law school.

  1. Does your law school have a mandatory or voluntary program?
  2. Either way, what do you do at your school to recognize law students who have gone above and beyond?
  3. Do you give awards or certificates?
  4. Do you hold an awards ceremony?

Please share in the comments section or by direct email to Stephen_Rispoli@Baylor.edu. Of course, the comments will be available to everyone, but we will compile the results at the end of the month and share them in a follow-up post on this blog to synthesize the information.

– SLR

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Addition and Subtraction: The New Math of Professional Development

By Liz Fraley

During a recent trip to Spain, I noticed how old and new meshed in the towns and cities of the country. Ancient, cobbled streets housed modern shops; beautiful facades from centuries past contained modern kitchens and baths courtesy of IKEA. Even those structures which stood intact had eroded with the passage of time, cannons, and pigeons. It struck me that this process of addition and subtraction permeates our lives, particularly in our professional formation. We often focus on what we need to add to our resumes, our skill sets, and our professional lives, and these new acquisitions can play a valuable role in developing professionally. We need continuing education as lawyers to maintain our skills and our licenses. We need to tackle new tasks and learn new law to help new clients. We need experience to be effective lawyers and leaders.

I think we may be less intentional about subtraction as a crucial part of the professional formation equation. To become wise counsel, we must become observers of life, recognizing those traits that lead to wholeness and being willing to let go of those traits and habits that erode us. Subtraction can take many forms: letting go of the need to control what we cannot; setting healthy boundaries regarding our time and relationships; acknowledging that we will not always win and that perhaps, we should not always win in the legal setting. Eroding the need to be perfect and to be right often feels wrong to those of us who have been the gold star getters of life. Remember gold stars? Those little magic signs that we were the best? I still remember the specific adhesive taste on the back of the gold stars I licked and put on countless charts during my life. But a relentless quest for achievement and perfection often elbows out authenticity because no one is on top and right and perfect all the time.

As teachers and mentors to our students, we can help with their professional formation when they observe in us the ability to be wrong, to rise from setbacks, and to acknowledge that failure is part of the profession. When we allow that erosion of perfection to happen, what is left may not be perfect, but it is authentic. Authenticity allows us to be better and more credible advocates and counselors. As professors, we give better advice and more effectively mentor when we acknowledge our own evolving process of flawed humanity.

How can you, as part of your professional formation journey, balance the addition and subtraction in that process? Where are you holding on to life-draining habits and practices, and where could you be adding value to your leadership and professional life? How can you guide your students through a process of reflection and action? One potential way to achieve this involves making two lists. On one, identify which investments of your time, energy, and attention made the most impact on your professional life last year, and on the other, which made the least? Reflect on what those lists reveal to you about what you might add and what could be subtracted from your life to add more value. We note that while this exercise works in your professional formation journey, it is equally interesting to ask this question broadly about your life.

Intentionally considering how your time is spent, what adds value, and how you want to change is an important and ongoing part of the professional formation process. Once you identify areas to change, monitor how you feel about having let something go. Do you feel relief? Do you miss that person or activity? Sometimes letting go of things we feel we should do but don’t really want to do can be the next big step in our development.

As you lead your students through this exercise, we recommend presenting this as a long-range planning tool.  Remind them that life as a law student and as a lawyer comes with days and tasks that are not fun, easy, or comfortable. Law students must prove themselves capable of completing challenging tasks or assignments. Lawyers must gain the trust of their clients by meeting their obligations with integrity. Short-term sacrifices are sometimes necessary to ensure long-term success. Yet even in these challenging periods, we can find perspective and clarity to envision our futures.

Like the quaint towns I visited in Spain, each of us can have a future that is a magical mixture of old and new. Building new skills and relationships laid on the foundation of our authentic values and hard-earned life experiences can lead to exciting opportunities and meaningful engagements in our communities. And, if well lived, our journeys can help others along their own paths.

– Liz

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How to Be a Better Leader in 2022


In the article below, Cynthia Thomas, the founder and owner of PLMC Associates, a management consulting firm for law firms, writes about four traits that are necessary to be a good leader. A good leader is impactful, compassionate, inclusive, and authentic.

She also includes eight songs from her Impactful Leader playlist.

https://www.lawpracticetoday.org/article/how-to-be-a-better-leader-in-2022/


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Did George Washington’s Journey to Strengthen his Emotional Intelligence Contribute to His Success?

By Leah Teague


“I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them,
to enjoy them and to dominate them.”

– Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray


Emotional Intelligence is the ability to be self-aware of the impact of our emotions – and control them – and it is awareness of and understanding the emotions of others. At the core, Emotional Intelligence is connecting with others through empathy to build relationships and achieve goals.

Emotional Intelligence is a modern-day concept. No studies or books could have guided Washington back in his day. But as we study Washington’s development as a leader, do his efforts provide an example of what can happen if one is dedicated to improving one’s emotional intelligence?

Last week, Baylor Law was fortunate to host a virtual presentation on Leadership Lessons from George Washington. Award-winning historian David Stewart, was interviewed by Talmage Boston, a well-respected trial lawyer and author, to discuss the leadership journey of our first president. In his research for his latest book, George Washington: The Political Rise of America’s Founding Father, Stewart discovered that “Washington’s rise constitutes one of the greatest self-reinvention in history.”

David Stewart described George Washington as a brash and arrogant young man – far from the respected father figure we see in portraits. Stewart notes, “From his earliest days, Washington hungered for distinction, for a high reputation that would validate his worth. Washington wrote in his early twenties that ‘the chief part of my happiness’ was ‘the esteem and notice the country has been pleased to honor me with.’” His judgment in early years appeared to have been guided, or misguided, by an excessive ego. And his failures were many in those early military years. Stewart writes of a transformation that took place in his mid-twenties. “Through that prolonged period of forced introspection, Washington evidently resolved on a fundamental change of direction.” By his mid-forties, Washington had transformed himself into the legendary leader known as a caring and quite gentleman who wrote much later in life that his “only ambition is to do my duty in this world as well as I am capable of performing it and to merit the good opinion of all good men.” 

The respected leader at the First Continental Congress in 1774 was “almost unrecognizable when compared to the man who led the Virginia Regiment two decades before,” wrote Stewart. To what does Stewart attribute this transformation?

Washington studied his flaws. From a young age, he struggled against his own nature. His early missteps might have crippled the prospects of a person with less dogged commitment to self-improvement. He ruthlessly suppressed qualities that could hinder his advancement and mastered those that could assist it. Washington’s story is not one of effortless superiority, but one of excellence achieved with great effort.

As we shared in our last blog on Emotional Intelligence, willingness to earnestly and honestly examine yourself and seek self-control are hallmarks of Emotional Intelligence. Awareness of other people and their circumstances with a desire to build relationships and work well with others represent two more key components of EI. George Washington may not have possessed it at the beginning of his career, but his later unanimous election victories indicate he earned it in abundance.

Stewart’s book is, according to the Wall Street Journal, “an outstanding biography that both avoids hagiography and acknowledges the greatness of Washington’s character.” I also learned that while Washington was not a lawyer, he served as Fairfax County Court justice for six years and presided over hundreds of matters. His time as a judge “season[ed] his judgment,” “bolstered his habits of acting cooperatively with peers, listening to differing views, and reconciling his ideas with those of others,” all of which well prepared him for his role as our Founding Father and First President. Washington’s willingness to listen to others with differing opinions and his selfless leadership were essential to seeing our nation through its fragile beginnings. Stewart stated, “Washington gave the United States something every nation needs, but few get: a national hero who understands that heroism includes giving up power and trusting your neighbors, that integrity and virtue – old-fashion concepts even in the eighteenth century – are a greater legacy than personal aggrandizement and national conquest.”   

In the interview, we appreciate Stewart’s thoughtful response to questions about Washington’s unwillingness to free his slaves during his lifetime which provides yet another reason to include Washington in our leadership studies. Washington could make an ideal subject for a class discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of our leaders and the complicated nature of leading in the midst of challenging times. We highly recommend the book, and we hope you enjoy the interview!

– LEAH

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Managers Must Be Leaders

By Stephen Rispoli

Here is a great article about managers becoming coaches:

https://hbr.org/amp/2019/11/the-leader-as-coach?fbclid=IwAR3b_F1t_wYU8E-rLTuVqUjjSGHCSAYEp7-6M3uq_xlT58fUGnxb3-JtDWo

We believe that managers must also be leaders (and vice-versa). They must focus upon the details and ensure that the trains run on time while also keeping an eye on the bigger picture. Part of that bigger picture is growing their team and setting everyone up for future success. From the article, “as Sir John Whitmore, a leading figure in the field, defined it, skilled coaching involves ‘unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance.’” This article in the Harvard Business Review is a great discussion of the acknowledgement of that shifting role of managers in the field. In our modern world, managers must become better coaches to help their teams grow – they must exercise leadership skills as well as managerial ones. The article discusses the barriers to doing this well, a couple of models to consider, and some tips to improve. It also provides some basic steps and further reading about coaching.

Here’s my favorite paragraph: “We live in a world of flux. Successful executives must increasingly supplement their industry and functional expertise with a general capacity for learning—and they must develop that capacity in the people they supervise. No longer can managers simply command and control. Nor will they succeed by rewarding team members mainly for executing flawlessly on things they already know how to do. Instead, with full institutional support, they need to reinvent themselves as coaches whose job it is to draw energy, creativity, and learning out of the people with whom they work.” Overall, excellent discussion of what managers and leaders should be and I highly recommend it. Kudos to Victor Flores for recently posting about this article. Although it’s not a recent article (originally published in late 2019), it is a great refresher about the importance of good managers.


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How Ike Led: Student Review by Ryan Golden

By: Ryan Golden, Baylor Law 3L

Image of Special Event held at Baylor University School of Law, How Ike Led
Recording of the event is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9TCGp39Adg


Few leaders have made decisions as momentous or widely varied as Dwight D. Eisenhower. Through his decades of service to America—first, as an accomplished general who led the Allied army to victory during World War II and later, as the 34th President of the United States during the Cold War—Dwight D. Eisenhower personified the qualities of successful leadership.

Baylor Law recently hosted an interview with President Eisenhower’s granddaughter, Susan Eisenhower, a distinguished Washington D.C. policy strategist, security expert, and author. In her book, How Ike Led, Susan Eisenhower details the qualities that made her grandfather the great leader he is remembered for being today. Author and attorney Talmage Boston, who interviewed Susan Eisenhower for the online event, described How Ike Led as a “textbook on leadership.”

How Ike Led may not be the only leadership “textbook” authored by an Eisenhower, however. In 1965, President Eisenhower authored an essay on leadership that was published in the Reader’s Digest. In that essay, President Eisenhower described the “handful of known qualities which I am convinced are the essence of leadership[,]” based on his observations of other renowned leaders, such as Sir Winston Churchill and Gen. George C. Marshall. According to Eisenhower, the essential leadership qualities include: Selfless Dedication, Courage and Conviction, Fortitude, Humility, Thorough Homework, and the Power of Persuasion.

Based on Susan Eisenhower’s discussion of her grandfather, it is clear President Eisenhower possessed many of these key traits. More than fifty years after President Eisenhower’s death, these qualities continue to remain relevant in today’s societal and political climate.

The first—and “perhaps the greatest”—quality Eisenhower described was selfless dedication. In his essay, Eisenhower wrote: “Any leader worth his salt must of course possess a certain amount of ego, a justifiable pride in his own accomplishments. But if he is a truly great leader, the cause must predominate over self.” In How Ike Led, Susan Eisenhower addresses this concept, writing that President Eisenhower knew when to suppress and when to deploy his ego. By this, she means that Eisenhower possessed a talent for knowing which fights to pursue and which fights to let go. Eisenhower innately recognized that insisting on winning every fight, no matter how large or small, alienated people. Instead, Eisenhower’s primary goal in both war and peace was to “foster unity” and “find a middle way.” In Susan Eisenhower’s words, it matters less “who does the right thing” and matters more that “the right thing gets done.” Eisenhower exemplified this belief by shirking partisanship and remaining open to working with both members of his party and those across the political aisle.

Eisenhower also described the importance of humility in a leader. In his essay on leadership, Eisenhower wrote: “My own conviction is that every leader should have enough humility to accept, publicly, the responsibility for the mistakes of the subordinates he has himself selected and, likewise, to give them credit, publicly, for their triumphs.” Eisenhower, again, serves as an exemplar of this quality. For any failure, Eisenhower claimed the responsibility rather than casting blame on his subordinates. Moreover, he instilled this value on his family as well. Susan Eisenhower recalled that the correct response to any failure or shortcoming was to accept responsibility and say: “No excuses, sir.”

A third quality of leadership described and exemplified by Eisenhower is fortitude. Eisenhower described this “vital ingredient of leadership” as “fortitude of spirit – the capacity to stand strong under reverses, to rise from defeat and do battle again, to learn from one’s mistakes and push on to the ultimate goal.” In line with this concept, Susan Eisenhower evoked one of her grandfather’s favorite expressions: “Don’t rewind the tape.” By this expression, Eisenhower meant that a leader should avoid replaying and second-guessing their past decisions. Rather, a leader should remain forward-facing and focused on the future.

Throughout the interview, the picture of President Eisenhower that emerged was one of nuance and complexity, highlighted by juxtaposed qualities and anecdotes. Despite being known for his considerable military accomplishments, President Eisenhower strove for peace rather than war during his two presidential terms. Relatedly, President Eisenhower used the United States’ military strength to negotiate a truce to end the Korean War and reduce tensions during the Cold War.

At the beginning of the interview, Talmage Boston noted how Susan Eisenhower’s brother, David, described President Eisenhower as both “beloved and forbidding.” Susan Eisenhower’s answers to interview questions, including her personal stories and anecdotes of President Eisenhower, revealed the truth of that duality.

Most historians are familiar with “the formidable Ike.” According to Susan Eisenhower, President Eisenhower possessed an “enormous physical presence” and a notorious temper, though he exercised great discipline in controlling it. After witnessing firsthand the liberation of a concentration camp during World War II, Eisenhower insisted that Germans from a nearby town visited the camp to see what had been done in their name, and he later required that villagers give the Holocaust victims proper burials. Eisenhower believed in accountability, but he also recognized that accountability must be followed by the opportunity for redemption. With President Eisenhower’s support, West Germany became a member of NATO in 1955, ten years after the end of World War II.

As this anecdote illustrates, President Eisenhower possessed an equally-important sensitive side in addition to his “forbidding” presence and reputation. Susan Eisenhower described her grandfather as a person with “extraordinary sensitivity” and a “big heart and tough head.” He was a “very passionate, emotional person” who was tasked with making difficult decisions in the absence of emotion.

As Eisenhower himself once wrote, “we don’t know all there is to know about leadership.” That said, Eisenhower’s legacy and nuanced approach to leadership serve as an enduring example of the marks of a true leader. As succinctly stated in the book’s description, “Susan Eisenhower’s How Ike Led shows us not just what a great American did, but why―and what we can learn from him today.”

If you would like to read President Eisenhower’s essay, you can find it at the following link: https://www.eisenhowerlibrary.gov/sites/default/files/file/what_is_leadership.pdf.

To order How Ike Led, follow this link: https://www.amazon.com/How-Ike-Led-Principles-Eisenhowers-ebook/dp/B0818Q5WNG.

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Lawyers Talk Too Much! The Art of Really Listening

By Stephen Rispoli

Two hunters were out in the woods when one suddenly fell to the ground. His eyes rolled back in his head, and he seemed to stop breathing. The other hunter frantically took out his cellphone and called 9-1-1. As soon as the call connected, he yelled out, “My friend Bubba is dead! What can I do?” The operator calmly replied, “Take it easy. I can help. Just listen to me and follow my instructions. First, let’s make sure he’s really dead.” A short pause ensued, and the operator then heard a loud gunshot. The hunter came back on the line and said,
“Okay… now what?” [i] 

Our modern society provides constant noise. Everywhere we turn there is something to listen to – 24/7 news, social media videos, audiobooks, podcasts, satellite/internet radio . . . the list goes on and on. While noise is frequent, we rarely see anyone simply being in the moment, truly engaged in observing and understanding the world. Instead, we pull out our phones during any down time to check email and social media. We are losing the art of doing nothing—of letting our brains have creative rest. We also are forgetting how to really listen.

For me personally, these constant distractions make it difficult to focus on one thing at a time. This is true not only during personal time; it happens at work as well. When I am on a business-focused Zoom call, even with just a few people, I constantly glance at my phone to read text messages or check that most recent email in case it demands my attention. In doing so, I may be hearing the conversation on the Zoom call, but am I really listening? A Russian proverb says, “If you chase two rabbits, you won’t catch either one.” When I multitask, as the expression goes, am I really catching either of the rabbits I need to catch?

To compound the issue, we lawyers listen to respond rather than listening to understand. Law school has trained us – and done a fine job at it – to listen to what another person is saying and immediately formulate an argument that rebuts that person’s position. I have learned this the hard way with my lawyer-spouse, Jeanine. The mark of a great lawyer, after all, is the power of oration and persuasion, and based on how our arguments usually go, Jeanine is clearly the superior lawyer. But a different and more important question is whether the responding person really understood the first person’s position or argument before choosing to respond.

The distinction is key, particularly when personal relationships and difficult subjects are involved. From conducting voir dire to negotiating a business deal, real communication requires effective listening just as much as (if not more than) effective speaking.[ii] Listening actively to what someone says rather than focusing on the literal meaning of the words spoken can provide greater insight and improve productivity within your organization.[iii] Colleagues who feel they have been heard are more likely to feel valued and remain loyal to the organization.[iv] In addition, leaders who actively listen catch things that other would miss and are better informed when making decisions.[v]

I suspect that I am not alone in these listening faults. The lack of civil discourse present in society certainly seems to confirm that others struggle with this as well. So, how do we train ourselves to really listen to others and be engaged in the moment?

Artful listening includes hearing not only what is said but also what is not said.[vi] Non-verbal cues––body language, posturing, and tone, for example––can convey a great deal about what is really being said.[vii] Maintaining eye contact and using reassuring facial expressions convey to the speaker that you are hearing them. When you also confirm what you heard and ask open-ended questions to follow up, you increase the likelihood you are truly communicating. Resist the temptation to interrupt or think only about what to say next; both diminish your ability to listen closely.[viii] Your non-verbal cues, especially those that signal you are bored or impatient can overpower anything that you say. This skill can be especially beneficial when giving feedback to a team member as you convey that this conversation is important.

Practicing artful listening can be done on a daily basis with friends, loved ones, and strangers alike. Becoming a master will help you build and maintain relationships. These deep relationships will pay dividends years after the first conversation. For lawyers, active listeners are better at witness examinations and voir dire during trial, at connecting with clients, with catching the nuances of office politics, and is critical for developing cultural competence. And for leaders, artful listening contributes to team trust, good decision-making, and fewer unpleasant surprises.

Law school provides ample opportunities to teach students to listen to respond, but it also provides opportunities to train students to artfully listen. Any course that focuses upon developing Legal analysis and problem-solving skills would be well served to include a section on active listening. Specific classes that focus upon relationships, such as client counseling, negotiations, or ADR, are also ripe for an artful listening discussion. Below are some exercises that can be used to practice artful listening.

A Meditative Moment[ix]

Have each student sit in a comfortable position and engage in mindfulness, closing their eyes, calming their breathing, and noting their heart rate and physical self. Are they calm and relaxed? Is some part of the body tense or tight? What is going on mentally – is the brain active and scattered or focused and calm? Spend a few moments with the students getting in touch with their bodies and minds using one or more of the following techniques:[x]

  • Focus on the rising and falling of the breath;
  • Pay attention to how your feet feel as they touch the floor;
  • Do a full-body scan, starting at the top of the head and moving to the feet. Note any areas of tension.
  • Imagine bright, warm sunlight streaming down on you;
  • Let your mind think about whatever it wants – no judgment
  • Talk to yourself like you’d talk to a friend.[xi]

For faculty comfortable with leading a meditation moment, feel free to use the techniques noted above. If you’d like to use an internet video, take a look at the resources available on Headspace.com.

After the students try these methods, have them think about what felt easiest and most calming for them.

Next, have the students think about a difficult or stressful situation. Note how the body and mind react. Now, try to refocus the students back to the state of physical and mental calm they were in previously.[xii] How might they do this in a professional setting while listening to a boss, judge, or client?

Active Listening Exercise

Pair all of the students. Ask each pair to arrange their chairs so that they are back to back. One student in each pair will be given a piece of paper with a couple of shapes on it. The second student sits with his or her back to the student holding the paper. The second student should not be able to see his or her partner’s paper, or the paper (with shapes) of any other student. Using only the methods of communication instructed, the second student will attempt to duplicate the shapes on the paper in front of the first student.

The shapes on the paper can be anything (they can be a star inside of a rectangle, a circle overlapping a square, trapezoid, and diamond, etc.). For an example, please see below.

For the first round, the student with the paper with shapes will describe the shapes and instruct his or her partner on how to draw the shapes on their paper. Give the students about a minute to complete the exercise, but explain that this is a one-way communication exercise; the students drawing cannot talk to their partners or ask questions.

After a minute, telling the drawing students to take out another piece of paper and try again. Give them another minute, but this time, it is a two-way communication exercise; allow them to talk to their partners and ask clarifying questions about the instructions they’re receiving.

Once done, have the students show their partners and each other their drawings, compared to the original. The first example (with one-way communication) is usually way off from the original, but the second example (with two-way communication) is usually much closer (comparatively speaking).

This exercise demonstrates how hard it is to understand exactly what someone is saying when they’re speaking to you. It also demonstrates the power of artful listening and the importance of asking good questions to clarify understanding.


[i] John C. Maxwell, Leadership Gold: Lessons I’ve Learned from a Lifetime of Leading 50 (Thomas Nelson 2008).

[ii] See Elle Kaplan, “Active Listening”: The Key to Strong Workplace Relationships, Productivity, and Personal Empowerment, Medium (Aug. 22, 2018), https://medium.com/@ellekaplan/active-listening-the-key-to-strong-workplace-relationships-productivity-and-personal-72650f32da4c.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Id.

[v] Id.

[vi] Sir Andrew Likierman, The Elements of Good Judgment, Harv. Bus. Rev. (Jan. 2020), https://hbr.org/2020/01/the-elements-of-good-judgment.

[vii] Kaplan, supra note 2.

[viii] Id.

[ix] Erin Olivo, Two Simple Mindful Meditation Exercises for Teachers, The Guardian (Dec. 6, 2015), https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/dec/06/two-simple-mindful-meditation-exercises-for-teachers.

[x] Id.

[xi] Id.

[xii] Id.


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How Ike Led: Leadership Lessons from our 34th President

Baylor Law



Join Baylor Law in welcoming Susan Eisenhower, political consultant, historian, think-tank leader, author, and granddaughter of Dwight David Eisenhower as she shares her insight on the principles behind the biggest decisions of one of America’s greatest leaders of the 20th century.

Interviewed by renowned attorney and author Talmage Boston, Susan Eisenhower will share her insight on how Ike led.

For more information, or to register, visit the Baylor Law website.