Leading Change in the Legal Profession: Wake Forest Hosts Symposium

This post is an overdue shout-out to Kenneth Townsend, Director of Leadership and Character in the Professional Schools at Wake Forest University, and his incredible team at Wake Forest School of Law for the fabulous job they did in hosting the Wake Forest Law Review 2023 Spring Symposium: Leading Change in the Legal Profession. Honored to be among the speakers and participants, I want to share some key takeaways.

The symposium was co-sponsored by the Program for Leadership and Character in the Professional Schools, a part of the Wake Forest Program for Leadership and Character. Elevating our leadership language to tie it directly to “character” is brilliant! Discussing aspects of character already permeate our classroom discussion and our Fundamentals of Lawyer Leadership textbook; still, I can and will be more intentional to include references to character formation as an integral part of leadership development.

Kenneth opened the symposium by reminding us of legal education’s challenges, including lack of public trust, poor reputation, lawyers struggling with well-being, disruptions caused by technological advancements, and lack of leadership training. I appreciated his reminder of a book from 30 years ago called The Lost Lawyer: Failing Ideals of the Legal Profession and the 2007 Carnegie Report: Educating Lawyers. Both were pivotal in inspiring my mission to be more intentional about leadership development in law schools these last ten years.

Just a few highlights from the wise words and inspirational messages from the speakers all day long:

During the first panel on experiential education, Holloran Center Fellow Kendall Kerew shared the question posed to Chat GPT: What lawyering cannot be replaced by AI? The answer was:

  1. Empathy and Emotional Intelligence
  2. Creativity and Critical Thinking
  3. Advocacy and Persuasion
  4. Ethics and Professionalism
  5. Client Relationship Management

Not only did we find this result interesting, many others did as well when she shared it in a popular blog post on the Holloran Center’s Professional Identity Formation Blog! Another reason why incorporating more leadership development into our legal education programs is so important!

The experiential learning panel also reminded us that best practices for student learning require us to help our students explore their “why” through self-assessment and self-reflection in order to grow. The professional identity panel followed to encourage us to remember Holloran Center Co-Director Neil Hamilton’s mantra to “meet students where they are they are” in order to guide them through reflection, coach them to develop the competencies expected by legal employers, and model and mentor students toward well-being by aligning professional and personal values. Professor Lisle Baker shared practical and clever tips for incorporating well-being practices into classes. 

In her keynote address, Judge Eleni Roumel, U.S. Court of Federal Claims, encouraged the students to commit to practicing civility, ethical behavior, and serving the public. And the panel of women stressed the importance of building relationships and seeking mentorships that grow organically.

Dean Mark Martin shared his vision for creating a new law school at High Point University that builds on principles found in the Carnegie report but is updated for the impact of technological advances. These were points of current emphasis:

  1. Promote diversity & developing strategies to unite us
  2. Enhancing understanding of new and emerging technology
  3. Reassessing pedagogy
  4.  Increasing experiential education
  5. Improve law student wellbeing
  6. Focus on the unmet legal needs of persons of modest means
  7. Financing legal education

The program ended with a reminder that when we are at our best when our students are at their best, we are:

  • more confident;
  • more competent;  
  • better able to stay committed to values we have internalized; and then
  • better able to serve and help others.

Gatherings such as these always energize and inspire me!!

Many thanks again to all of you working to build a better future by enhancing legal education!



Cultivating wellness in those who lead and those who are led

Guest Post By R. Lisle Baker
Professor of Law, Suffolk University Law School, Boston, MA

How can we cultivate wellness in those who lead and those who are led?

Lead from our strengths and draw on the strengths of those being led.

The late Dr. Christopher Peterson was a psychologist who offered this prescription for wellness in his Positive Psychology Primer: “if you want to be healthier, you should eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly and not smoke. You should have good relationships with other people and pursue activities that are fulfilling.”

Most of us think we understand diet, exercise and smoking – even if we don’t always follow the behaviors they reference. But how about having good relationships and finding fulfillment? They are general principles with less clear content.

One way I have found helpful with my students is to help them understand their unique set of character strengths, which can help them pursue activities that are fulfilling. Then they can use their awareness of their own strengths to perceive those strengths in those with whom they might interact – helping them have better relationships with those they lead. But how do they learn what those strengths might be?

Many law teachers are aware of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, used by psychologists to classify and treat various kinds of behavioral health concerns. What is less well known is that the same Dr. Christopher Peterson directed and co-authored with Dr. Martin Seligman a treatise they referred to as a “manual of the sanities.” Their joint work, Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, examined 24 strengths of character which have been valued across time and cultures. They are:

List of 24 strenghts of character: Creativity	Curiosity	Judgment
Love of Learning	Perspective	Bravery
Perseverance	Honesty	Zest
Love	Kindness	Social Intelligence
Teamwork	Fairness	Leadership
Forgiveness	Humility	Prudence
Self-regulation	Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence	Gratitude
Hope	Humor	Spirituality

But what makes their work most helpful is a questionnaire which allows anyone, without charge from the nonprofit VIA Institute on Character, to see what particular pattern of such strengths they have. The ones we rely on most often feel so natural to us that we may be unaware of them, like using a dominant hand, unless asked to reflect on what it would be like if we could not use them for an extended period. But people who become aware of their strengths, and use them appropriately in a chosen role, can lead more fulfilling lives. That is one way to meet part of what Dr. Peterson recommended for wellness.

As for good relationships with other people, when we become aware of our own strengths, we can also begin to notice strengths in other people. Mark Twain once wrote, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Often, however, for want of something better, our compliments may oftenfocus on something obvious, like how we dress. But what if instead we tell them what good they have done and how they have done it?

Part of the challenge is that we may not have a large enough vocabulary to do so. But if you notice and comment on other people’s perseverance or bravery or kindness, and say how you saw it expressed, you are honoring some of their 24 character strengths. A bonus is that because their top strengths are aspects of who they are, they may also take them for granted and not be as aware of them as we might be as observers of their behavior. When, however, they find them pointed out, they feel appreciated – perhaps even if a little bashful, as accepting a compliment is sometimes harder than giving one. Doing so, however, honors the giver as well as the recipient.

Leadership, however, extends beyond compliments. When we notice and call upon the strengths of those we lead for action, we can combine theirs with ours to enhance chances for success in a chosen task, just as a team can do more on the playing field than an individual can alone.

Looking for opportunities to compliment – and complement – character strengths in other people also provides us opportunities to honor others’ diversity. We often rely on visible signs of our differences rather than also looking for those invisible distinctions that can add additional value. Spotting and calling on their strengths offer us a means to that end which can further deepen our relationships. We, as law professors, have a role to play in teaching students how to be well themselves and lift up others. Understanding and appreciating our strengths and that of others can be helpful ways for aspiring leaders – as well as those of us who teach them – to have good relationships with other people and pursue leadership activities they find fulfilling – with greater wellness for all involved.  

– R. Lisle Baker