A Message From the Chair – 2019

What a great inaugural section program in New Orleans!

Many thanks to our inspiring and thought-provoking speakers and to Deborah Rhode for assembling such a stellar panel.
(Bob Post, Susan Sturm, and
Kellye Y. Testy’s follow-up comments from the program are available on this website).

Our section program had one of the highest attendance – quite a feat for our first official program!

I encourage you to watch the recording on the AALS website or read summaries in this newsletter from our panelists.

In our second year, the Executive Committee looks forward to working with you to continue the momentum and garner more interest in, and understanding of the importance of, our effort. We will need to continue to address questions about the structure and content of leadership development in law schools. I submit that providing a common definition of leadership is less important than establishing a universal recognition that lawyers do, and must continue to, play leadership roles in society. As law professors and administrators, we are the educators, trainers, and mentors of the future generations of lawyers who will play important roles in their communities. Surely, we have an obligation to prepare our students not only for their professional obligations but also the myriad opportunities to serve and to lead that will come their way.

Through our experience in creating a leadership program and course at Baylor Law, we see three important benefits to our students when law schools are more intentional in providing leadership development for our students:

  1. Ensure our students understand their obligation to serve, protect and give back to society, but also to inspire them to seek opportunities to use their legal training and skills to positively impact their communities as well as their clients.
  2. Expose our students to specific leadership language, theory, and skills necessary or helpful to be more effective in those roles;    
  3. Guide students through a self-assessment and discovery of their own leadership characteristics and traits and provide appropriate training so that they are better equipped for impact and success when those opportunities are presented. This will likely result in more personal satisfaction and better well-being throughout the students’ careers. 

Through intentional leadership development programming, students will be better equipped to adapt to changing conditions in an ever increasingly complex society, to add value for their clients and to make a difference in the lives of their clients and their communities.

We need to help law schools see the benefits to us as well. Highlighting leadership skills gained from legal training will enable applicants see that law school continues to be a great investment in their future as they seek a path of significance and fulfillment through helping people and effectuating a better future for organizations, communities, and societies.

Thank you for your energy and your work. What we are doing is important. Our efforts matter. We can make a difference in the personal and professional lives of our students. We can impact the future of our profession, our nation and beyond.

We are proud to announce that more than 50 law schools now have some type of leadership programming and/or courses. And more are coming! Schools with leadership programs generally offer non-credit workshops, seminars, and other leadership activities. Other law schools likely have or had leadership workshops or forums. If you have a new program or class, please add it to our list by filling out a short survey,here.

Our plans for 2019 are to:

  1. Build awareness of our work and its importance and relevance;
  2. Build membership in the section;
  3. Support efforts to create programming and classes;
  4. Support efforts for scholarship and other avenues for sharing of knowledge and ideas; and
  5. Plan programming for the 2020 AALS Annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

I hope to see you in Knoxville at the roundtable hosted by Doug Blaze and the University of Tennessee School of Law on April 4 and 5! (Register Today!)

All the best,



Attend Leadership Development for Lawyers – AALS

I want to encourage members of the section to participate in the round-table, Leadership Development for Lawyers: Increasing our Impact, April 4-5, 2019, at the University of Tennessee.

Leaders today face challenges of incredible breadth and complexity, and the problems we face as a society can only be solved by trained and committed leaders. The University of Tennessee College of Law and the AALS Section on Leadership will host an event geared specifically toward those interested in helping law students and lawyers develop leadership skills they need to be successful.

Round-table discussions will provide an opportunity for those involved in legal leadership education to share ideas and experiences, assess our efforts, and plan for the future. In addition there will be workshops on topics like starting a new leadership course or program, integrating well-being into legal leadership curricula, and how to develop effective leadership development exercises. Registration and lodging information is available here.

Please contact me if you have any questions about the event. I look forward to hosting you at the University of Tennessee.


Doug Blaze
Dean Emeritus, Professor and Director of the Institute for Professional Leadership
University of Tennessee College of Law


Leadership Program Spotlight: Frohnmayer Leadership Program, University of Oregon School of Law

For our second Leadership Program Spotlight, we present The Frohnmayer Leadership Program at the University of Oregon School of Law. 

The Frohnmayer Leadership Program is named after Dave Frohnmayer, who served as both President of the University of Oregon and Dean of the Law School.  A leadership gift also allowed the School of Law to establish the Dave Frohnmayer Chair in Leadership and Law, with Dean Marcilynn Burke serving as the first person to receive this honor.   The Program provides students with multiple opportunities to engage with leadership concepts and theories, including a Leadership Practices course, the Dave Frohnmayer Leadership Lecture, and other training sessions.  A Leadership in Practice Certificate of Completion is granted to students upon the achievement of a set number of leadership development training hours, with the number of hours based on whether the student is in the J.D., LL.M or Master’s in Conflict Dispute Resolution program.

The Leadership Practices for Professional Success course is currently taught by Jennifer Espinola, Law School Dean of Students and Director of the Frohnmayer Leadership Program.  Leadership Practices is a one credit, pass/no pass course and was most recently offered during the J-term prior to the Spring 2019 semester.  According to Dean Espinola, the course addresses several topics: emotional intelligence, interpersonal communication, values-based leadership, team development, and change management.  This year’s readings included “Leadership and Self-Deception” by the Arbinger Institute, and “The Truth About Leadership” by Kouzes and Posner.  The course is capped at 20.  The course was originally developed and taught by Dave Frohnmayer himself, before he passed away in 2015.  Dean Espinola has been teaching it ever since.

Dean Espinola and Chris Esparza, Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Leadership Development, co-advise nine Frohnmayer Fellows in the program.  The Fellows work with the advisors to offer a robust menu of offerings for students pursuing the certificate of completion for the Frohnmayer Leadership Program (FLP).  Programs include:

  • A monthly “Leader Ledger” newsletter covering various topics such as self-care, inclusive leadership, imposter syndrome, EQ, self-actualization, etc.
  • A semesterly leadership retreat.  This one-day experience allows students to take a deeper dive with notable national leadership educators such as Dr. Tanya Williams who presented the LeaderShape program “Resilience” to Oregon Law students in Fall 2018.
  • Monthly “Leader Lunches” – these workshops are presented by campus educators, alumni, and other professionals on different leadership topics.
  • “Read to Lead” sessions – participating students are assigned a leadership reading and then they attend a dinner co-hosted by a law school Dean or faculty member with a prominent alumnus or alumna in order to discuss the reading.
  • Leadership Coach – each student pursuing the certificate of completion is assigned to a respected leader in the profession for two separate coaching sessions to discuss the coach’s leadership experience and the topics the student is learning throughout the program.

For more information on the Frohnmayer Leadership Program, see the following link:  https://law.uoregon.edu/explore/frohnmayer-leadership-program.


Leadership in Law Schools

Bob Post, Yale Law School

In everyday language, we speak of leadership in two distinct ways. On the one hand, we endow leadership with substantive vision. We praise as a “leader” the person who gets it right, who knows the right move to make in the right circumstances so as to accomplish the right ends. On the other hand, we characterize leaders as those who possess the technique of persuading others to follow their direction.

I have in mind now leadership in the first sense. I am worried about what leaders in legal education ought to do when the mission of law schools has been rendered questionable. How ought law professors respond when our Chief Justice answers President Trump’s critique of the ruling of an “Obama” judge by claiming that we do not have Republican judges, or Democratic judges, but merely judges who are doing their best fairly to apply the rule of law? Every one of us wants to support Roberts’ objection, but who believes that what Roberts says is actually true? And most fear what the federal judiciary will do as an ever-increasing percentage of its membership is appointed by President Trump. How do we lead when we don’t know what to affirm?

My dear colleague Sam Moyn recently published in the Chronicle of Higher Education an article entitled Law Schools are Bad for Democracy: They Whitewash the grubby scramble for Power. Moyn argues that although law schools ought to “incarnate ideals of political and social justice,” they actually function “mainly to reproduce social hierarchy.” Moyn condemns even law school clinics, which are so proud of their contributions to justice, but which are perforce required to litigate within the limits of a Trump inflected judiciary, and so must practice a “politics of marginal legal reform by insiders to the system” and so to “launder[] and legitimate[] injustice.” “For the sake of our national life,” Moyn pleads, “law schools must take up the duty of inculcating in their students and in the public a critical attitude toward the operations of ‘the rule of law’ in general—including a critical attitude toward the routine exaltation of the judiciary.” They must encourage the “disgust” felt by “so many of our fellow citizens” at “what ‘the rule of law’ is providing them.” Law schools must “demystify the law as a first step to reinvigorating democratic life.”

If all that Moyn means is that law schools should adopt a critical attitude toward current legal decisions and judicial holdings, then he is merely preaching to the choir. Law schools have been adopting that critical pose since the progressive era. But I suspect that Moyn means something deeper, which is that law schools must reject the rule of law itself. They must destroy the illusion that law exists apart from political power. Moyn thus advocates a variant of Trump’s perspective, which in turn chimes with familiar CLS critiques from decades ago. Foreseeing the dark times that lie before us, Moyn seems to say that law schools should teach that legality is the opiate of the people.

How should leaders in legal education respond to Moyn’s critique? I suggest we begin with the thought that law has both positive and normative dimensions. We are free critically to assert what the rule of law should normatively entail. But so long as the rule of law is positively embodied in state organizations like courts, its meaning is irretrievably linked to the actions of what Robert Cover once characterized as violent institutions.

I suggest that leaders in legal education will now be required sharply to distinguish positive from normative dimensions of the rule of law. Moyn intimates that in present circumstances normative commitments to the rule of law will merely distract from essential political action. But I regard this position as self-contradictory.  This is because political action in modernity always aims at the creation of institutions, and institutions must function according to the rule of law if they are to act fairly and effectively.

The challenge to law school leadership is therefore how to maintain a normative commitment to the rule of law when we can foresee that this commitment will everywhere be betrayed by the actions of the very positive legal institutions charged with implementing the rule of law.  This is not just a challenge for deans, but for all of us who seek in our teaching to inculcate respect for normative ideals of the rule of law.

But I do not know whether this ancient orientation is adequate to the crisis that will soon be upon us. In so many ways, the era of Trump pushes us toward a moral singularity.


Lawyer Leadership: Embracing the Paradoxes

Susan Sturm, Columbia Law School

From the moment I entered law school, and through four decades as a lawyer then a law professor, I have experienced lawyering as a bundle of contradictions. Crossing the threshold into the legal world in the late 1970s, I found that my dream of paving the way for a new era of social justice ran headlong into the wall of austere tradition. This tension between purpose and precedent replayed daily in the classroom during my law school years.  I often found myself frustrated and infuriated by case law and Socratic dialogue, which instructed that “thinking like a lawyer” meant looking backward rather than forward, following authority rather than pursuing innovation, and promoting predictability rather than solving problems. Nonetheless, I absorbed the message that, as lawyers, we would be expected to find solutions for the world’s most intractable problems. Alongside its constraining energy, my relationship with the law would put me in positions requiring that I “think outside of the box.”

In practice, I continued to grapple with these contradictions. Legal reasoning and adversary process proved simultaneously necessary and limiting, just as collaboration and problem solving got me only so far. As a litigator, I was continually buffeted by the need to fight while cooperating—as part of conducting discovery, orchestrating a trial, or settling a case. As an assistant to a master in a prison case, I witnessed the court’s power to force prison officials to pay attention to inhumane and abusive conditions that they had tolerated without consequence until the court intervened. Yet, the court could not induce the cooperation and commitment necessary for sustainable change; the force of law that put prison reform in the spotlight also triggered backlash and resistance that undercut its power.1

Now, as a law professor, I experience these contradictions daily as I teach Civil Procedure alongside a new course called Lawyer Leadership: Leading Self, Leading Others, Leading Change. Both courses aim to equip students with capacities fundamental to lawyers’ roles in enabling constructive human interaction. Yet, on their face, they seem to require opposing capacities, and to cultivate competing mindsets. I have witnessed this disconnect firsthand during an exercise we conduct on the first day of class in Lawyer Leadership. We divide students into small groups and ask each group to list the qualities or descriptors that came to mind when they thought of the word “lawyer.” We then ask them to do the same with the word “leadership.” When we come back together, we ask students what they noticed about the “Lawyer-Leadership” lists generated by each group. Students typically describe lawyers as “competitive,” “aggressive,” “critical,” “adversarial,” “hard-working,” and “risk-averse.” In contrast, the column for leaders contains descriptors such as “creative,” “entrepreneurial,” “visionary,” “inspiring,” and “collaborative.” It doesn’t take long for an observant student to notice that there is virtually no overlap in their “lawyer” and “leader” descriptors.

I have come to realize that lawyers’ capacity for impact depends upon making sense of, and being able to pursue simultaneously, these oppositional aspects of lawyering and leadership. These core roles and practices simultaneously contradict and depend on each other for the legitimacy and effectiveness of both. Lawyers play a key role of designing human interaction so that diverse people can peacefully and effectively govern themselves. They bear responsibility for helping individuals, organizations, and governments structure their affairs so they can live and work together, even when they disagree. They are called upon to be problem solvers and facilitators of human interaction. When these relationships break down, however, law—through lawyers—enforces rules and enables people to fight without resorting to violence, using adversarial tools to allocate responsibility, impose judgment, and enforce rules. Effective lawyers must both fight and collaborate, judge and build trust, debate and design new institutions, minimize risk and enable effective risk taking, advance clients’ values and hold clients accountable for adhering to societal values.

The prevailing strategy for promoting the practices falling under the umbrella of leadership alongside lawyering could be called “add and stir.” Much of the literature either explicitly or implicitly assumes that, with adequate commitment, leadership learning can be added into the law school curriculum as supplements or complementary competencies. A case in point is a report issued by Ben Heineman, William Lee, and David Wilkins, in which the co- authors urge that lawyers “be equipped with a broad range of ‘complementary competencies’ that supplement and expand the ‘core’ competencies of legal reasoning and analysis that have been traditionally taught in law school and emphasized in legal practice.”2

The complementarity argument goes something like this: The current law school curriculum (and the accompanying pedagogy) emphasizing the development of legal analytical skills remains valid, and should remain at the center of the law school curriculum and pedagogy. It is, however, too narrow. It does not adequately equip students to navigate the leadership challenges they will face in their multiple roles, to take up the leadership that society calls upon lawyers to exercise, and to do so at a time of increasing volatility, complexity, and urgency.

Leadership learning can be added to the prevailing pedagogy to meet these needs because the skills associated with learning leadership are compatible with, or at least not opposed to, those involved in learning how to “think like a lawyer” in the traditional sense of what that means. Leadership learning thus can and should simply be added onto learning to operate in lawyers’ more conventional adversarial roles.

I share many of the assumptions underlying this complementarity strategy. Legal analysis is a core legal competency that must remain a pillar of the law school curriculum. The importance of finding a way for law schools to pursue both prongs of lawyer leadership, a move that Robert Cullen calls conjunctive, seems beyond serious dispute.3 I also share the assumption, both stated and unstated, that successful incorporation of leadership into the law school curriculum must take account of the norms, values, and commitments that lie at the heart of traditional legal education.

Nonetheless, the simple strategy of complementarity will not, in my view, work. It sidesteps fundamental ways that legal education geared toward cultivating conventional legal skills necessarily operates in tension with—and sometimes in opposition to—the kind of learning that must take place to cultivate leadership. The capacities and mindset celebrated in the Socratic classroom—judgment, critique, risk minimization, reasoning from precedent—take on the character in the leadership literature of limitations to be overcome or minimized. The tendency to downplay these tensions and contradictions, though not surprising, underappreciates both the necessity and opportunity presented by facing up to them. Unless these tensions are addressed, features of legal education operating within the conventional paradigm are likely to marginalize and undercut the efforts to build leadership capacities.

I come to believe that the concept of paradox holds a key to navigating these contradictory yet linked aspects of lawyer leadership. A paradox is a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.4 A growing body of organizational and change literature offers insights into both how paradoxes operate and how they can operate virtuously rather than as a vicious cycle. By definition, paradoxes cannot be resolved or eliminated; their self-referential and cycling quality is what makes them a paradox.

In key respects, the contradictory yet interdependent elements of law and leadership are built into law’s structure, role, and practice. At the level of structure, formal and informal constitutions (such as contracts) set up law both to provide structures and processes enabling people to interact, cooperate, and make decisions, on the one hand, and to enable people to fight without violence and to abide by decisions that will be backed by force, on the other. Lawyers sit at the cusp of these paradoxical functions.5

These tensions also inhere at the level of role. Lawyers are called upon to build, design, enable cooperation and collaboration, “constitute” governments, contracts, relationships, and transactions (in the constitution, in deals, in house, and in alternative dispute resolution). They must simultaneously be ready to fight on behalf of clients, to be the stewards of the adversary process, and to discipline the exercise of the violence of the state. These roles are in tension. They are also interdependent. Lawyers cannot conduct a trial without both cooperating and fighting. They cannot steward an effective deal without both minimizing and facilitating risk taking.

Finally, the practices required for lawyer leadership are themselves paradoxical. Conventional lawyering and leadership will sometimes require competing mindsets, skills, and practices. Lawyers have to judge while they also listen, enable, and empathize. They have to create the conditions for growth and learning, even as they set up the processes to locate or cabin legal responsibility. They have to be in a creative mindset even as they facilitate compliance and reactive risk avoidance.

The tensions that manifest in the relationship between conventional lawyering and leadership lie at the heart of what makes lawyers distinctive, necessary, and potentially effective in leadership roles. The most successful and impactful lawyers live in these tensions. The role of law and lawyers fundamentally involves the capacity to combine these contradictory modes of thinking, acting, and interacting. This capacity to hold paradox may be what equips lawyers to exercise truly effective leadership. When lawyers without this capacity occupy leadership roles, that deficit may help us understand the spectacular failures that unfold when they get stuck on one side or the other of the paradox. The challenge facing law schools is to figure out how to build that tension—and the capacity to manage it—into their practices and cultures.

This Essay argues for naming the tensions between lawyering and leadership, reframing them as paradoxes, embracing those paradoxes as challenging but necessary, and engaging law schools and the legal profession in building capacity to navigate these contradictory yet interdependent situations. Section I lays out the conceptions of lawyering and leadership that conflict, and providing some background on the meaning of paradox. Section II explores the aspects of legality that operate in tension with leadership, and what makes those tensions paradoxical. I identify six paradoxes of lawyer leadership—dualities that contradict one another, give rise to, and affect how lawyers will experience leadership learning: (1) reasoning paradoxes, (2) discourse paradoxes, (3) relationship paradoxes, (4) motivation paradoxes, (5) mindset paradoxes, and (6) justice paradoxes. Section III shows the limitations of prevailing strategies for reconciling the contradictions between legality and leadership. Finally, drawing on action research and the literature of paradox and organizational change, Section IV offers a framework for taking a paradoxical approach to lawyer leadership, one that differentiates between problems that can be solved and paradoxes that must be embraced. This approach offers three overarching strategies for enabling law students, law schools, and legal organizations to hold contradictory messages and mindsets, and for using this paradoxical approach to strengthen and deepen leadership capacity in lawyers and the capacity to build leadership across-the-board.



Advancing Leadership Education in Law

Something Old, Something New;
Something Borrowed, Something (Red and) Blue

By Kellye Y. Testy 1

Lawyers are leaders.  What’s new about that?  Not much.  Lawyers have always served as leaders in many different forms and ways.  Those include formal business leadership (e.g., President, Chairman), service (e.g., Mayor, Governor, Reverend), and leadership that arises not from title or position but from persuasion, whether moral, ethical, political, or intellectual. Despite the pervasiveness of leadership roles and expectations for lawyers, legal education did not – at least on the surface – purport to include leadership development as an area of its curriculum until relatively recently.  Indeed, only a decade ago when I asked my faculty to consider adding leadership education as a strong theme of our curriculum, the most common response was “that’s for the business school.”

Today, however – and fortunately in my view — legal education is taking leadership education seriously.  Not only are there many examples of outstanding law and leadership programs in our nation’s law schools, but that groundswell has enabled the formation of this new AALS Section on Law and Leadership.  It was an honor to participate in its first program at the 2019 AALS Annual Meeting, and I’m pleased to share here a summary and some additional thoughts on the topic.  To keep it short for this column, I’m organizing my points into something “old,” something “new,” something “borrowed,” and – bear with me – something “red and blue.”

Something “old”

As noted above, it is not a new insight that lawyers serve as leaders in many capacities, both formal and informal.  As legal education increasingly embraces leadership skills as ones that can and should be taught as part of the law school curriculum, it is important to recognize that many elements of leadership education have always been part of legal education, even though they may not have been explicitly called out as such.  Combining the “old” with the “new” can help us be more efficient in delivering maximum value to our students by not unnecessarily repeating something under a new name that is already being covered.  Thus, for instance, law schools already do a good job in several key areas of focus for leadership education, including honing “difficult conversation” skills, nurturing the ability to lean into ambiguity, inspiring reflection on values and ethics, and cultivating the ability to “see around corners.”  Understanding these as leadership skills makes it easy to see why law-educated individuals are often so successful as leaders.  Imagine how much more we can add to our students’ leadership capacities by building on this solid platform with intentionality.

Something “new”

While we are not starting from scratch in developing leadership education in law, there is a great deal that we still need to add.  Legal education has always been more about the “head” than the “heart,” and leadership education at its best blends both.  That is not to say that there are not currently elements of legal education that engage the whole person (kudos to our nation’s clinical programs!), but that has not been the norm to date.  In my view, the high levels of depression and other emotional struggles in the legal profession are symptoms of this disconnect.  Likewise, just as legal education has not nurtured care for own hearts, it has not nurtured care for others’ hearts either.  Effective leadership requires engaging with others emotionally as well as cognitively.  Leaders are often called upon to manage changes in which the largest obstacles are emotions of loss and fear. Change management is growing as an important area of focus for the legal profession, and thus an important dimension of legal education.  As many forces continue to reshape legal services and legal education, and challenges to the rule of law proliferate both at home and abroad, the capacity for leadership in our profession and in our world has never been more important. 

Something “borrowed”

The something borrowed example picks up on my former faculty’s early resistance to teaching leadership in the law school – business schools have been doing this for a long time.  In my view, that is no reason for us not to do it; after all, why should we prepare our business titans to be leaders but not our legal titans?  But it does mean that we need not start from scratch.  In business, as well as in leading schools of public policy, there are many outstanding examples of teaching and scholarly resources on leadership.  That does not mean that we need to rely on every new trade book promising the next great secret to effective leadership.  But just because a business book is more mainstream doesn’t mean that it should be dismissed as a potentially helpful resource for leadership education in law.  Business academics have far outpaced legal academics in moving their ideas into the mainstream (consider the visibility and impact of the Harvard Business Review vis-à-vis the Harvard Law Review).  I will save for another day some of my own favorites in the field, but why not walk over to your business school to collaborate with and borrow from the faculty there who teach leadership?

Something (Red and) Blue

As legal educators, our job is to nurture the leaders who will advance the rule of law and build the future of justice.  What surprises me most in hearing objections to teaching leadership as part of legal education is that it is a partisan initiative — both directions!  Some objections are that a focus on leadership might be seen as “too corporate” or “too militaristic” and thus off-putting to law students who see themselves as champions for justice.  Further, that because structural inequities mean that women, women and men of color, and others are often excluded from leadership roles, a focus on leadership might reinforce these existing inequities.  A focus on leadership education might tilt legal education more to the right than those who hold these views are comfortable with.  Others object from the opposite standpoint; for instance, that adding leadership to legal education is another example of “diluting” the curriculum with “soft” skills that undermine legal education’s rigor and tilt it “left.”

Leadership, for good and for ill, does not have a political party.  What is most important in thinking about educating leaders is that we ask “leadership for and toward what?”  If we take the most common definition of leadership as “having influence,” then we know that influence can flow in many directions.  The promise of being more intentional about teaching leadership is that to do so requires that we focus not only on skills but also on values.  Legal education should focus more on the hard questions of what it means to defend and promote the rule of law and what we want the future of justice to be in our world.  Yes, these may bring forth a need for those “difficult conversation” skills, but these are conversations worth inspiring and worth having.  Indeed, without them, we risk a world that Grant Gilmore so famously warned of: “In hell there will be nothing but law and due process will be meticulously observed.”  I know we can build a better world than that, and I believe adding leadership to legal education will help.