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Report from the AALS Annual Meeting

By Leah Teague, Immediate Past Chair

For the second year (of our 2 years in existence) our program was in the top 10 in terms of attendance for section programs! That should tell us that we are on the right track! We are excited about the growing recognition that law schools need to do a better job of equipping our students for the leadership roles we know they will assume as lawyers. In my opening remarks, I expressed my appreciation to Martin Brinkley, Dean and Arch T. Allen Distinguished Professor of Law, for the way he framed our work. During our section breakfast meeting that morning, Dean Brinkley asked “Why are we not looking at this issue as a gap in legal education that must be filled?” We agreed that we all should.

Learning from Lawyer-Leaders Throughout the Profession

For those who were not able to attend the annual AALS meeting in Washington, D.C., you missed a great program, “Learning from Lawyer-Leaders throughout the Profession.” Our program was cosponsored by Professional Responsibility and Pro Bono and Public Service Opportunities sections. We were encouraged by the many new faces in attendance.

Martha Minow, 300th Anniversary University Professor and former dean, Harvard Law School, moderated an all-star panel of lawyer-leaders: Judy Perry Martinez, President, American Bar Association, the Hon. Robert L. Wilkins, Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and James J. Sandman, President, Legal Services Corporation.

Professor Minow began by asking each panelist to share their journey to leadership. She described hers as “accidental leadership.” None of our panelists had a grand plan for leadership early in their career and yet each has honorable served in influential leadership roles. All agreed they learned helpful skills such as analytical and advocacy skills in law school. As Judy Perry Martinez observed, we teach students about “gathering information, listening earnestly and then acting, taking action.” Judge Wilkins added he was inspired by professors who cared about “the world and big ideas.” Martinez was motivated in law school by stories of lawyers “making an impact,” and lawyers taking on cases to change laws and pursue reforms and “push for change” to help people without voice or resources to do so on their own. Jim Sandman shared that in retrospect he realizes now that his “first training and experience in leadership” came in law school through his work as executive editor of his law review and “[n]ot through the curriculum.” Judy Perry Martinez added that there also are “disabling aspects of law school, particularly when it comes to collaboration, when it comes to self-awareness and when it comes to taking a sense of initiative, risk taking. We cultivate belt and suspenders approaches to life, rather than be on the edge.”

Our own development as a leader is certainly a life-long pursuit, but how much better will it be when our law students have a head start that none of us did?

You can listen to the the audio recordings at or read the transcript of the session at https://baylor.box.com/s/pwbmlz4xzilz20jb900zkxwy7nx7d198

The transcripts include timestamps and speaker names. They were created to allow you to quickly read through the panel discussions. Please note: the transcripts were created using third-party technology and may contain transcription errors. If you have any questions, please let us know.

Here are some additional gems of insight from the session:

From Martha Minow: “there’s a wonderful essay that compares the use of the case method in different professional schools, and argues that medical schools historically use it to develop diagnostic skills. Law schools, analysis involves taking problems apart. Policy schools, generating options, imagining writing memos for somebody who’s going to make a decision. Business schools, the best version of it is judgment, the other version of it is just making a decision and never looking back. When I read this, I thought my goodness, we each have to do all of those things, so why do we sort it out across all those different schools? We all need to do all of those things.”

From Jim Sandman: “There was nothing in my law school curriculum that touched leadership at all. I don’t recall the word having been spoken. My impression is the legal education has changed a lot… But my sense also is that it’s still an entirely optional basis. That there are still huge numbers of law students who complete their formal legal education without having touched training in leadership. I think we need to do something…. I think knowing how to lead is as important a lawyering skill as learning how to think like a lawyer. It’s critical to your effectiveness in persuading people,  … you could be the greatest analyst but if you can’t communicate your analysis in terms that others can understand, you can’t persuade people of the value… Other things that I think are important, how to build a consensus, how to motivate others, how to listen, how to ask good questions…. How to work with a team… How to get asked to lead, how to be asked to raise your hand… Those are some of the universal skills that I think are part of leadership that can and should be taught in law, and not on an optional basis.”

From Judge Robert Wilkins: “I’m not sure what the answer is or what law schools can do about it but it just seems to me that there are a lot of people who come to law school with big ideas, maybe law schools could do more about trying to help you think about how they can achieve those goals that they put in those personal statements. But then there’s the world and there’s the reality of making a living and all of that…”

In response to Judge Wilkins observation, ABA President Judy Perry Martinez offered, “This answer or this suggestion may come as no surprise to those of you who know the work of the ABA, who know the opportunities of the organized bar in general at any level, but I think the perfect, perfect solution there and the opportunity there is to encourage engagement of your law students from the very get go in the organized bar. I would love it to be the American Bar Association, and I will tell you I will make that happen for any of you in this room, or any of your students who want to engage but it doesn’t have to be because it can be the local, the state, the specialty bar, any way that they want to engage. But that’s where you find passion. That’s where you find hope. That’s where you hone leadership skills. That is where you feel needed. That is where you feel you’re making a difference when you’re contributing an hour a month or 10 hours a week.”

Professor Minow then mentioned a student film project as part of one of her classes in which she encouraged her students to advocate for a cause about which they are passionate. I looked up the project and encourage you to do the same. The 5 films are available on the Boston Globe website at https://www.bostonglobe.com/2019/11/18/opinion/legal-lens-home/. Here is the description: “The films address the recent elimination of Temporary Protective Status for longtime immigrants raising their American-born children in the United States; displacement of working-class families due to economic development in a harbor-front community; challenges navigating work and home due to historic treatments of pregnancy and parenting; threats to a residential neighborhood posed by flooding risks at an oil and gas facility; and challenges returning home for a military veteran with untreated trauma and a criminal conviction.” These are great examples of opportunities for law students and lawyers to get involved to make a difference.

Our esteemed panel also discussed “how to lead in a crisis” and “intergenerational leadership. What does it mean, what does it require, what does it entail to lead organizations and groups of people, or people that are coming from different generations?” In answering questions from the audience, they touched on helping our students understand “servant leadership,” “leading from the middle,” and how to be effective by adding value and “building relationships and credibility.” Also shared were stories of satisfaction, fulfillment and sense of purpose that come from helping others by using our legal skills through pro bono and public service work.

Their conversation was insightful, motivational and encouraging for our future. I encourage you to read the transcript or listen to the audio. Special thanks to Martha Minow, Lee Fisher, Dean and Joseph C. Hostetler-BakerHostetler Chair in Law at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, and Buck Lewis, shareholder Baker, Donelson, for putting together our fabulous program!

Whole-Building” Approach to Leadership Development of Law Students

Following our panel was a presentation chosen from our call for papers and delivered by Thomas Sneed, Associate Professor & Director of the Law Library, Washburn University School of Law. His presentation was the first in what will be an annual segment of our section program which will be known as the “Whole-Building” Approach to Leadership Development of Law Students.” Each year, we will issue a call for papers that highlights varies roles that divisions and departments of the law schools can play in the leadership development of our students. We will showcase how leadership development programming can be integrated throughout students’ law school experience. In the first of these presentations Professor Sneed encouraged us all to involves our librarians to help build our leadership development programs. He has an upcoming article in the UMKC Law Review.

Co-sponsored programs

During the annual meeting we also co-sponsored three other section programs:

  • AALS Section on Empirical Study of Legal Education and the Legal Profession, “An Empirical Look: How Well Are We Preparing Law Students to Become Ethical Leaders Who Serve Others.”
  • Women in Legal Education Section, “Teaching Law in a #MeToo World.”
  • Pro-Bono & Public Service Opportunities Section, “Pro Bono and Public Service: Pillars of Democracy and the Legal Profession,” also co-sponsored by Empirical Study of the Law & Legal Education

Several of us also attended the program hosted by Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research, entitled “Cultivating the Hard Skills of the Whole Lawyer: Lawyers as Leaders.” The panel was moderated by Lee Fisher, Dean and Joseph C. Hostetler-Baker Chair in Law at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Dean Fisher and his team did an excellent job of making the case for leadership development in law school while showcasing the program at Cleveland-Marshall.