Lawyers are regularly asked to serve in their communities, and we hope lawyers do so with a servant’s heart. When asked to join local boards, help with civic needs, and take on pro bono cases, young lawyers can benefit beyond the personal satisfaction that comes with knowing they are doing these things for the right reasons. These efforts also can be helpful to their careers with intention and planning. In 2016, Matt Czimskey, one of my law school classmates, Jeanine Rispoli, my wife and the current President of the Texas Young Lawyers Association, and I presented at the ABA Young Lawyers Division Fall Conference. The topic for our presentation was “Growing Your Network: Ethics and Professional Conduct that Builds Relationships.” In the paper that was given to the audience, we highlight the importance of community service and three questions that every young lawyer should consider:
Community involvement should have a positive impact on your community and your career. Thus, there are three fundamental questions that you must ask yourself: (1) who am I and what do I want to do; (2) how can I best inform people who I am and what I do; and (3) what decisions must I make to make myself known and build a reputation for my practice?
There are always too many demands for our time. Our experience has been that by answering these questions and being intentional about serving the community, young lawyers can live up to the aspirational goals of the profession and benefit their careers at the same time. In Chapter 22 of Fundamentals of Lawyer Leadership, we give some further guidance to students about their service paths and some thoughts to consider as they explore options.
We’d like to hear from you about how you address this subject. When students ask you why they should get involved in the community, what do you tell them? Are they seeking aspirational reasons? The practical side of actually getting involved? Or do they want to know whether it is worth doing given their billable-hour minimums at the law firms? Tell us what you say in the comments below.
starters, we must recognize that as lawyers, as professionals, we are expected
to be leaders in society. âA lawyer is a
representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen
having special responsibility for the quality of justice.â
We have an obligation to serve not only our clients but also society. Our legal
training and professional status afford us daily opportunities to influence
individuals, organizations and communities.
many ways, legal training is implicitly leadership development training. Faculty
are teaching and modeling leadership in the classroom and beyond; however, we are
not teaching leadership intentionally. We must help our students understand
that their professional obligation is to serve their clients and their communities. Their
professional opportunities will enable them to lead and to be change-makers. If
we see ourselves as problem solvers and trusted advisors instead of deal
killers and hired guns, maybe the public will see us that way too.
can start developing lawyer-leaders intentionally by reframing the way we think
about leadership development training. Law faculties are equipped to
participate. Because they are lawyers, they have served in a variety of leadership
roles, including as professors in the classroom. Leadership goes on every day,
in every classroom. Faculty can more intentionally model leadership and help students
see themselves as leaders. Students, from observing our interactions and actions,
learn how to address colleagues and classmates, how to treating others with
respect, and what it means to be a professional. But faculty can also encourage
one of the most fundamental aspects of leadership â intellectual curiosity â as
a way of life. Law professors can equip students with knowledge, skills and
strategies that will help them be successful in dealing with, and leading,
people and organizations.
majority of law school applicants provide personal statements that express
their desire to go to law school because they want to make a difference, to
advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves, or to make our
communities better. Donât we owe it to them to equip them with more than just
the ability to critically analyze an issue? Donât we want to make sure we set
them up for success, not only in the practice of law but also in the many other
arenas in which they will serve?
 The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Preamble:
A Lawyer’s Responsibilities,
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 studentsâ 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 lawyersâ 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 changedâwe have an inkling of whatâs to come with technology and the impact of artificial intelligence on our profession, but we donât really know the full implications. Which of our traditional lawyering tasks will be automated? How will we adapt? Will we recognize that lawyersâ 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 leadersâthose who are going to help clients and organizations work through their issuesâare 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.