Dear AALS Leadership Section Members,

AALS President, Mark Alexander, has challenged us to embrace this year’s theme of Defending Democracy.  “We have a special role to play in saving our democracy from the very real dangers that threaten us and our country.  [O]ur democracy is the lifeblood of a free and fair society and … is worth being defended with action and resolve.”

How does this theme relate to our AALS Leadership section? 

We must educate transformational leaders who will be positioned to serve in public office and other institutions that uphold our democracy.

We are witnessing a scarcity of leadership in our government institutions, most notably in our Congress and state legislatures. I am referring to true leadership—the kind that acts with integrity, respects the rule of law, understands respectful debate, and treats others with dignity and respect. These might sound like wistful qualities of yesteryear, but these qualities are very real and necessary to a healthy democracy and must be taught and reinforced.

Lawmakers must build coalitions, even with those with whom they disagree. They must listen and act respectfully. They must understand that compromise is essential in a functioning democratic system. We need leaders who display character, create collaborative cultures, and foster inclusive environments that uplift and inspire. Most importantly, leaders must be motivated by a higher good – our democracy and those whom we serve.

As legal educators, we can help our students understand what leadership is and what it looks like in action. Our students have a keen sense of character, service, and equity and we can reinforce and explore these qualities with them, empower them to embrace their innate compassion and humility and teach leadership skills that will equip them as they move forward to defend our democracy. 


April M. Barton, Chair


I am grateful to our outgoing Leadership Section Chair, Dean (now President!) Garry Jenkins, for his wisdom, leadership, and collegiality. I have learned much from him and appreciate all that he has done for our Section over the years. He is a shining example of exceptional leadership and we wish him the best in his new role as President of Bates College!

I am also grateful for our AALS Leadership Section 2023 Executive Committee who are already working hard to make sure we have programming for all of our members throughout the year. 

Executive Committee Members are:

Lee Fisher, Chair-Elect
Dean, Cleveland State University College of Law
Joseph C. Hostetler-BakerHostetler Chair in Law

Martin H. Brinkley
Dean and William Rand Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor
University of North Carolina School of Law

Joan MacLeod Heminway
Rick Rose Distinguished Professor of Law
Interim Director, Institute for Professional Leadership
The University of Tennessee College of Law

Susan R. Jones
Professor of Clinical Law
The George Washington University Law School

Tania Luma 
Assistant Dean, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Clinical Professor
Loyola University Chicago School of Law

Stephen Rispoli
Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Strategic Initiatives
Director of Innovation and Scholarship, Executive LL.M. in Litigation Management
Baylor University School of Law

Hillary A. Sale
Associate Dean for Strategy
Agnes Williams Sesquicentennial Professor of Leadership and Corporate Governance,
Professor of Management
Georgetown University

Aric K. Short
Professor of Law & Director, Professionalism and Leadership Program
Texas A&M University School of Law

Leah Witcher Jackson Teague
Associate Dean and Professor of Law
Baylor University School of Law

Kellye Y. Testy, 
President & CEO
Law School Admission Council


Expanded Conversations about Professional Identity and Leadership at AALS 2023

Aric K. Short | Professor of Law & Director, Professionalism and Leadership Program
Texas A&M University School of Law

          At this year’s AALS Annual Meeting in San Diego, there was a noticeable increase in the number of presentations and panels related to professional identity formation and leadership development from prior years. This heightened attention may stem, in part, from the newly-implemented ABA Standard 303, which requires all law schools to provide students with multiple opportunities for professional identity formation and training in anti-racism and bias. But it also likely reflects an increasing recognition within the academy that the competencies and values associated with professional identity formation are critical to preparing our students for a successful and rewarding career in law.

          Below is a sampling of topics addressed by panels and presentations on professional identity formation and leadership at this year’s Annual Meeting:

  • How to effectively spread the load of providing professional identity formation opportunities across the entire law school enterprise, including faculty and staff (sponsored by the Section for Associate Deans for Academic Affairs and Research);
  • Ways to weave training on bias, cross-cultural competencies, and anti-racism into the law school curriculum (sponsored by the Section on Civil Rights);
  • Specific techniques for helping students explore and form their professional identities from orientation through their last weeks of law school (sponsored by the Sections on Balance and Well-Being in Legal Education, Academic Support, Clinical Legal Education, Student Services, and Teaching Methods);
  • Practical tools for effectively implementing anti-racism training (sponsored by the Section on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Professionals);
  • Suggestions on how to move beyond diversity to equity and inclusion in law school teaching (sponsored by the Sections on Teaching Methods, Academic Support, Balance and Well-Being in Legal Education, and Minority Groups); and
  • Exploring ways that leadership training in law schools can bring about positive change in society and for the clients our students serve (sponsored by the Section on Leadership).

In addition to these formal opportunities to discuss the theory and practice of professional identity formation and leadership, there were countless informal discussions about strategies and best practices that occurred during the Annual Meeting. All of this AALS attention on Standard 303 topics aligns with the growing number of workshops, symposia, and other efforts in broader academia addressing professional identity formation and leadership.

Of particular note to section members, the Holloran Center at the University of St. Thomas School of Law is hosting a symposium/workshop later this month for authors of casebooks used in required law school classes: “Transitioning from Student to Lawyer: Infusing Professional Identity Formation into the Required Curriculum.” Over 20 authors from all four major casebook publishers are scheduled to attend and present ideas for more formally incorporating Standard 303 themes into existing courses. Be on the lookout for articles synthesizing these ideas in a forthcoming issue of the St. Thomas Law Review.   


Teaching Lawyer Leadership from A Desk Chair

Joan MacLeod Heminway | Rick Rose Distinguished Professor of Law
Interim Director, Institute for Professional Leadership
The University of Tennessee College of Law

As an advocate for leadership education in law schools, I often find myself answering questions from faculty and staff colleagues at other law schools about the courses in my institution’s law leadership curriculum and the nature of our co-curricular and extracurricular programs.  I am always happy to respond to those inquiries and share syllabi, teaching materials and methods, program ideas, and more.  But in the three years that I have been administering the leadership curriculum at The University of Tennessee College of Law, I have come to see more and more clearly that some of the most effective lawyer-leader education is accomplished through one-on-one and small-group engagements with students in office hours and meetings.  My evidence is anecdotal, but my observations may resonate.  I share a few here.

Teaching leadership in these individual and small-group settings may sound like an inefficient delivery system for law school leadership instruction.  If you have that reaction, I understand.  I also initially believed that I could impact more students in more ways by teaching them about lawyer leadership in larger classes.  And that may well be true.  Accordingly, I am not here advocating abandoning lawyer leadership education in that formal, large-group instructional setting.  Providing leadership education through traditional classroom teaching provides a compelling, credible, and (in some cases) necessary foundation to personal leadership discovery and development. 

Yet, experiences I have had in working with students on leadership strengths, weaknesses, and processes have led me to open my eyes to and think more about the value of personal, customized educational settings in the teaching of lawyer leadership.  Ultimately, I have determined that significant, influential, and (yes) efficient lawyer leadership education can and does occur in smaller, less formal instructor-student interactions outside the classroom or other structured academic activity.  There is great joy in this type of teaching, which can focus in closely on the specific emergent needs of a student.  This teaching environment tends to be a bit more organic and less intimidating than others in law school leadership instruction.

There are two specific contexts in which I have found that individual or small-group lawyer leadership lessons may be particularly efficacious: in response to a non-systemic professional development crisis and in situations involving a need for specific process guidance on a pressing matter.  Lawyer leadership, as an aspect of professional identity, can be deeply personal.  Both contexts—personal professional development crises and emergent questions relating to a course of conduct—require a deeper, more individualized dive into what may typically be core topics in a foundational course on lawyers as leaders.  Said another way, these environments involve contextual, customized applications of leadership principles.

I am sure that many have had the experience of advising law students who are contemplating leaving law school or otherwise altering the course of their professional future.  Those conversations can be important settings for the teaching of lawyer leadership, including self-leadership.  Counseling and teaching in this setting often involve not only assisting the student in more precisely identifying the root of their professional angst but also linking that root cause to leadership styles, attributes (including character strengths), strategies, and tactics. 

No doubt some also may have received law student requests for guidance in overcoming resistance to change or objections to important initiatives.  Perhaps the student is facing a challenge to their work from a more senior (or otherwise important) person on a project team.  Counseling and teaching in these circumstances may engage matters of leadership process in a frontal way.  Core questions asked in these settings may include: “How do I work with others to achieve my professional or personal goals in the face of this opposition?  What steps do I take and how do I engage them?”

Teaching in these situations can be challenging, yet very rewarding.  Approaches may draw from the full breadth and depth of the educator’s experience.  As a result, a variety of instructional methods can be useful.  In some circumstances, for example, analogous narratives—storytelling involving others who have faced the same or similar quandaries—can aid in introducing a law student to approaches to consider or reject. 

Moreover, as is true in the classroom, the application of concepts discovered or tested through academic research may play a key role in both teaching and learning in these more individualized settings.  Again, many common tools in the leadership instructor’s toolkit may be employed successfully.  For instance, one can imagine the PERMA theory of well-being from positive psychology coming in handy, or one might instruct on the “feel, felt, found” method of overcoming objections or (as I have written about elsewhere) business management models for leading change.

Finally, it seems relevant to note a side benefit of thinking and talking about the teaching of lawyer leadership individually and in small groups.  That side benefit: the prospect that the informal and personal nature of the teaching may encourage more of our colleagues to think of themselves as law leadership instructors and may engage them with lawyer leadership concepts.  Student advising is part of the everyday activity of an engaged law professor (including, e.g., counseling on academic projects, course selection, and career development).  Recognition of the role these advisory encounters can have in teaching lawyer leadership and using these types of meetings as vehicles for teaching or reinforcements of building blocks for professional development allows for a natural and logical dispersion of the responsibility for leadership instruction across the law faculty.

I hope that many of you will consider focusing on teaching lawyer leadership from your desk chair in addition to teaching lawyer leadership from behind a podium.  Personalized law leadership teaching can be a rewarding and powerful experience.  It can change student lives.


Pop-Up Survey Results

How are you teaching leadership/PIF? Is it being taught in stand-alone courses or as topics in doctrinal or PR classes?

Person 1:

Response 1:

Person 2:

Response 2:

What are some of your needs for bringing leadership into law school?

Person 1:

Response 1:

Person 2:

Response 2:


Person 1:

Response 1:

Person 2:

Response 2: