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Leadership and Public Service

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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