Proposed Amendments to ABA Standards Create Opportunities for Leadership Programs to Help

By Leah Teague, Baylor University School of Law

The Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is considering several amendments to the ABA Standard on Legal Education that reinforce the need for, and value of, leadership development. Three important topics that should be taught as part of robust leadership development programs or courses will become mandatory for law schools if adopted by the Council. The proposed amendments are in Standards 303 (professional identity), 303 (bias and cross-cultural competency), and 508 (student well-being).

As I see it, the broader mission of values-based leadership development is three-fold:

  • encourage law students and lawyers to embrace their obligation to serve clients and society,
  • better equip law students for positions of leadership and influence, and
  • inspire law students to boldly seek opportunities to make a difference in their communities and the world.

The proposed amendments to Standards 303 (professional identity), 206 (bias, cross-cultural competency and racism) and 508 (student well-being) align with this mission and are important aspects of a law student’s preparation for professional life after law school. Notably, both of the leadership textbooks for law students  address all three of these issues. One, of course, is Deborah Rhode’s Leadership for Lawyers (a third edition has recently been released) and the other is our textbook, Fundamentals of Lawyer Leadership.

Professional Identity

Lawyers’ role as leaders in society IS a fundamental part of lawyers’ professional identity. The proposed amendment to ABA Standard 303(b) requires law schools to “provide substantial opportunities to students for:

… (3) the development of a professional identity.”

The proposed Interpretation 303-5 reads:

Professional identity focuses on what it means to be a lawyer and the special obligations lawyers have to their clients and society. The development of professional identity should involve an intentional exploration of the values, guiding principles, and well-being practices considered foundational to successful legal practice. Because developing a professional identity requires reflection and growth over time, students should have frequent opportunities for such development during each year of law school and in a variety of courses and co-curricular and professional development activities.

At the core of leadership development efforts is awakening law students to “the special obligations lawyers have to their clients and society.” For a visual model of the development of a law student’s professional identity, see the Holloran Center’s Model for How Law School Learning Outcomes Build on Each Other to Foster Student Development. The model presents five groups of competencies in a visual layered progression of law school learning outcomes to help students “grow[] from being a new entrant to the profession to being an integrated effective lawyer serving others well in meaningful employment.” In Group 5 (complex, compound competencies) is “Leadership and Influence in Organizations and Communities,” For a discussion of these competencies, see Neil Hamilton’s Mentor/Coach: The Most Effective Curriculum to Foster Each Student’s Professional Development and Formation. For a discussion of the role of lawyers as leaders in society, see the Preface and Chapter 2 of Fundamentals of Lawyer Leadership and Chapter 1 of Leadership for Lawyers.

Bias, Cross-cultural Competency and Racism –

New efforts to encourage diversity, inclusion and cultural competency education are included in proposed amendments to Standard 303. Additional amendments to Standard 206 are still under consideration.

Amendment to Standard 303

The Council is also considering an amendment to ABA Standard 303 to add (c):

A law school shall provide education to law students on bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism:

(1) at the start of the program of legal education, and

(2) at least once again before graduation.

For students engaged in law clinics or field placements, the second occasion will take place before, concurrent with, or as part of their enrollment in clinical or field placement courses.

The proposed Interpretation 303-6 reads:

With respect to 303(a)(1), the importance of cross-cultural competency to professionally responsible representation and the obligation of lawyers to promote a justice system that provides equal access and eliminates bias, discrimination, and racism in the law should be among the values and responsibilities of the legal profession to which students are introduced.

The proposed Interpretation 303-7 reads:

Standard 303(c) may be satisfied by:

  1. Orientation sessions for incoming students on bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism;
  2. Guest lectures by experts in the areas of bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism;
  3. Courses on racism and bias in the law; or
  4. Other educational experiences that educate students in cross-cultural competency.

While law schools need not add a required upper-division course to satisfy this requirement, law schools must demonstrate that all law students are required to participate in a substantial activity designed to reinforce the skill of cultural competency and their obligation as future lawyers to work to eliminate racism in the legal profession.

The proposed Interpretation 303-8 reads:

Standard 303 does not prescribe the form or content of the education on bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism required by Standard 303(c).

Many find this subject difficult to teach but the importance of the topic cannot be understated which is why coverage of diversity and inclusion have been a mainstay in lawyer-leadership programs from the beginning. Leadership courses and programs have already developed methods for teaching these concepts in a respectful and meaningful manner. For example, Chapter 17 of Fundamentals of Lawyer Leadership is titled “Diversity, Inclusion, and Cultural Intelligence” and combines the coverage of diversity and inclusion with bias and cross-cultural competency. Chapter 8 of Leadership for Lawyers is titled “Diversity in Leadership.” These issues have always been present in Deborah Rhode’s leadership books but the recently released third edition textbook includes additional material on diversity and inclusion, as well as updated exercises, problems, and media resources.

I note that we are adopting a term used by Professor Neil Hamilton. We now refer to this topic as “Diversity and Belonging” which calls us as leaders to seek ways to help each member of our team or group or organization, especially those who have different backgrounds and life experiences, feel valued as a contributing member of the effort.


The amendment to Standard 508 would add (b) to require law schools to provide students with “information on law student well-being resources.” The proposal also calls for the law schools to work to remove the stigma of accessing mental health and well-being supports on campus and within the legal profession.

Proposed Interpretation 508-1 reads:

Law student well-being resources include information or services related to mental health, including substance use disorders. Other law student well-being resources may include information for students in need of critical services such as food pantries or emergency financial assistance. Such resources encompass counseling services provided in-house by the law school, through the university of which the law school is a part, or by a lawyer assistance program. Law schools should strive to mitigate barriers or stigma to accessing such services, whether within the law school or larger professional community.

Proposed Interpretation 508-2 reads:

Reasonable access, at a minimum, involves informing law students and providing guidance regarding relevant information and services, including assistance on where the information and services can be found or accessed.

If approved, attention to student well-being will be added to the law school accreditation standards for the first time. For students to use their legal knowledge, skills and competencies to achieve their goals (i.e. self-actualization), they must learn to care for themselves and tend to issues related to mental and physical health. In Fundamentals of Lawyer Leadership, Chapter 11 (The Importance of Well-Being: Thriving in the Legal Profession) discusses the dimensions of health and shares resources and techniques for long-term practices and habits. In Leadership for Lawyers Chapter 2.D, Rhode discusses the evolution of well-being, the underlying causes of stress in the legal profession, and suggestions for positive strategies.


With every conversation with leaders in our profession, the importance of our efforts and need for leadership development in law schools is confirmed! Thank you for your efforts and keep up the good work!


Fundamentals of Lawyer Leadership Abstract

Lawyers are leaders, which makesleadership an essential aspect of lawyers’ professional identity. Leadership development is about helping students see themselves as leaders who will use their legal knowledge, skills and competencies to solve problems and serve others as they work toward common goals. Their leadership occurs when representing and advising clients as well as serving within their communities. Just as developing legal skills is a life-long endeavor that begins in law school, so does growing as a leader. Fundamentals of Lawyer Leadership was written to help law schools guide law students through a process to understand and own their professional identity as a lawyer, to self-assess their strengths and weaknesses, and to equip them to work well with others. By enhancing their legal education with leadership skills they will be better equipped to accomplish their goals and better prepared to be difference makers in society.

In Fundamentals of Lawyer Leadership, we explore the aspects of leadership that law students can develop and improve during their time in law school. This textbook begins in Part I (Overview of Leadership) with the study of “leadership” as a process whereby an individual has influence on another (or a group) to achieve a common goal. As lawyers, our students will have the opportunity to help and serve no matter what title or position they hold in an organization. Law students need to recognize that their position as a lawyer in our society is a leadership position as they advise clients and organizations and as they serve in their communities. In Part II (Leadership of Self: Growing into Leadership), student begin, or continue, their leadership journey with a look inward to examine their professional identity – who they are, what type of lawyer they want to be, and how they will lead. Topics covered include characteristics of leadership (traits, skills and competencies, including those traditionally developed in law school); fixed vs. growth mindset; grit and resilience; feedback and failure; well-being; integrity and character; preparedness and setting goals. In Part III (Leadership with Others: Effective Group Dynamics), we turn our attention to help our students develop their ability to interact effectively with others. We cover topics such as emotional intelligence; relationships and influence; strategic communication; and diversity, inclusion and cultural competency; effective management; and working within legal organizations.  Finally, in Part IV (Leadership within Community: Service and Impact), we encourage students to seek opportunities to use their legal training and other talents and gifts to serve society in ways that are meaningful to them and that can have a significant impact on others. We challenge them to consider what legacy they want to leave. This section can be used when emphasizing leadership for change and encouraging law students to use their legal skills to effectuate desired goals in areas about which they are passionate.

Additional recommendations when using the book:

  • Guest speakers: Leadership and professional identity/development courses and programs provide a wonderful opportunity to bring your alumni and high-profile lawyers into the classroom to interact with students and share their experiences. We select guest speakers who can reinforce or help us teach the chapters assigned for that session.
  • Experiential Learning: Role playing, exercises, small group discussions, and discussion boards are used as regular components. Many samples are provided in the book with additional options available – and new ones being added all the time – in the Teacher’s Manual.
  • Student Journals: A powerful tool as part of the student’s experience, journaling personalizes and internalizes the concepts discussed in the book and during class interactions. We start with the sample journal prompts but often adjust them after class to respond to the discussion or address a point that needs emphasis. Witnessing their growth as we read their journals is one of the most satisfying teaching experiences we have!

Read more, access the Teacher’s Manual and sample PowerPoint slides, and request a complimentary copy here: https://www.wklegaledu.com/Teague-Leadership. The textbook chapters also can be used as modules for stand-alone programs or incorporated into other courses. We want to make it easy to create a class or supplement a program so we continue to develop teaching materials (notes, exercises, PowerPoint slides, etc.) to accompany our book.


Third Edition of Deborah Rhode’s Leadership for Lawyers Now Available

Leadership for Lawyers is the first coursebook targeted for leadership courses in law schools. Now in its third edition, this text combines excerpts from leading books and articles, accessible background material, real-world problems and case histories, class exercises, and references to news and entertainment media in areas of core leadership competencies. Author Deborah L. Rhode has edited four well-respected books on leadership, developed one of the first law school courses on leadership, and written widely on the subject in law reviews and mainstream media publications.

New to the Third Edition:

  • Increased coverage of diversity and inclusion
  • New discussion of stress, wellness, and time management
  • Coverage of recent ethical scandals and dilemmas
  • Updated problems, exercises, and media clips

Professors and students will benefit from:

  • Excerpts from foundational texts, engaging overviews of core concepts, discussion questions, class problems, and exercises that address real-world issues.
  • Links to short segments from movies, documentaries, and news broadcasts for each major topic.
  • Materials on moral leadership and scandals that make for highly engaging discussion on “how the good go bad.”
  • Coverage including key theoretical and empirical issues concerning the nature and qualities of leadership, the role of ethics, gender, racial, ethnic, and other forms of diversity, pro bono and public interest work, and core competencies such as decision making, influence, communication, conflict resolution, innovation, crisis management, stress and time management,  and social and organizational change.

Click here to learn more and request a professor review copy: https://www.aspenpublishing.com/Rhode-Leadership3.


A Fireside Chat on Leadership with Former Governor Jim Edgar of Illinois

On Tuesday, November 2nd, 2021, the University of Illinois College of Law’s Leadership Project hosted former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar for a “fireside chat” on the topic of leadership. Governor Edgar served as Illinois’ 38th Governor from 1991 to 1999 and previously served as Illinois Secretary of State and as a member of the Illinois General Assembly. During his years of public service, Governor Edgar established a reputation as a strong leader who could reach across the aisle to get things done.

The Leadership Project co-hosted the event in conjunction with the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs and the Student Bar Association at the College of Law. Assistant Dean Greg Miarecki, the director of the College’s Leadership Program, moderated the session alongside Akshay Soman, the Student Bar Association’s current President. In-person attendance at the fireside chat was limited to current students, and alumni and friends of the College from around the world participated via Livestream, with over 100 attendees in total.

Governor Edgar shared his perspectives on leadership – learned from more than 30 years in public service. Governor Edgar offered some key takeaways:

  1. The definition of leadership is the ability to take people where they don’t want to go, but know they need to go. For that reason, it is critical that a leader secure and maintain the trust of his or her followers.
  2. Teamwork is critical to leadership. A good leader must assemble a team that will tell him or her when he is wrong, and create an environment where all team members feel that they belong. Importantly, a good leader should work to promote their team members and move them into progressively more responsible positions over time.
  3. Good leaders are problem solvers. They are able to identify the issue, provide a solution, and work with everyone around him or her to implement it.
  4. Good leaders are able to compromise and work with others who have differing views. Often, the result of the compromise is better than any one side could have achieved on its own.

Click here (www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rit2gVwU3Y) to view the entire session on the College of Law’s YouTube channel.

The College of Law’s Leadership Project is planning additional programming in the next few months, including a continuing legal education program on Tuesday, January 18th, 2022, where the panel will discuss Donald T. Phillips’ book – Martin Luther King, Jr. on Leadership: Inspiration & Wisdom for Challenging Times. Click on the link below to learn more and to register:

College of Law – Events Calendar: CLE: A Discussion of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Leadership – Inspiration & Wisdom for Challenging Times (illinois.edu)


Tennessee Journal of Leadership, Law, and Policy

The TN Journal of Law and Policy has changed its name and its content orientation, to include leadership.  It is the first law journal/review that is dedicated in any part to lawyer leadership.  The new title is TN Journal of Leadership, Law and Policy. 

From their website:

The Tennessee Journal of Leadership, Law, and Policy analyzes the latest developments in leadership in law, laws, and public decision making. It explores areas touching on a number of disciplines and attracts readers from a variety of professional interests. By publishing essays and commentaries, in addition to traditional scholarly articles, the journal offers a unique addition to the scholastic environment of the university. The journal is published by students of The University of Tennessee College of Law.

Issue 2 (Winter 2020) of Volume 14 hosts the articles from the Leadership Symposium. Volume 14 is available, here: https://tennesseelawandpolicy.com/volumes/volume-14/ (Scroll down to Issue 2 (Winter 2020))


Leadership Syllabi and Resources


Leading as Lawyers (https://leadingaslawyers.blog/)  Douglas Blaze has organized a blog to allow for posting of interesting ideas, thoughts and insights and asked that we invite you to read and post your ideas. Editors’ Note:  We have been looking at the posting on the site since it was established in June and have been excited by the ideas.

Training Lawyers as Leaders (http://traininglawyersasleaders.org)  Leah Teague and Stephen Rispoli have established this blog to support the growing movement to create more leadership development courses, programs, events and activities in law schools across the nation. We invite you to subscribe to the blog and join the conversation.


A BOX Folder has been created as a repository for syllabi, programs, exercises, articles, presentations and other leadership development materials. All can view and download the materials through the following link: https://baylor.app.box.com/s/dkr4brr2t3b2qhvd2bnvah35cj8voj5n. For access to upload and edit documents, contact Stephen Rispoli ([email protected]), Assistant Dean at Baylor Law School. The categories created in the Box folder are: Blogs, Course Syllabi, Exercises, Newsletters, Programs, Publications, Speakers/Presentations.

The Leadership Partners Team            

Are you thinking about beginning or expanding a leadership course, program or just learning more about the area. Members of the Leadership Section have volunteered to speak and hopefully help you. If you want to speak with someone or volunteer to assist others, please contact Stephen Rispoli ([email protected]) or Leah Teague ([email protected]).

Contact Us            

Please let the editors know if you know of events, programs, and items that may be of interest.



As I write this short message, the importance of this moment in the history of our country is almost overwhelming.  Leadership is critical to our ability to taking advantage of the challenges and opportunities presented.  This special issue of the Leadership Section Newsletter is focuses on the most important of those challenges – racism.  

Professor Tony Thompson deserves special thanks from all of us for securing an incredible group of contributors.  Of course, thanks to each of the authors as well.  I appreciate their time and willingness to share their individual views and experiences.  I also have to mention and thank David Gibbs and Stephen Rispoli for their ongoing work of creating and producing our newsletters. 

Finally, Don Polden has put together a terrific section program at the Annual Meeting in January. For more information.  I hope you will join us.  More information is available at https://am.aals.org/program/ and through the listserv. 

Stay safe and well. 

– Doug Blaze 


Introduction to This Special Newsletter

By Tony Thompson, Professor of Clinical Law, NYU School of Law

The killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor at the hands of the police have catalyzed a movement.  That movement started with vehement calls for fundamental reform of policing in this country.  This painful moment of loss offers us a chance to make the deaths of these three people count as well as acknowledging the countless others whose names we may never know who lost their lives in a racialized system of justice enforcement that this country has tolerated and enabled. 

But the public protests have also sparked something that extends beyond criminal justice reform: a relentless insistence that we acknowledge the stark reality that racism infects every system in this country.  We as lawyers, as law teachers, as people who care about justice must actively work toward a genuine reckoning on race and racism in this country.

That reckoning involves understanding both what has brought us to this point and what we need to do to engage in the real transformative work that historically has been stunted.  That begins with a process of self-reflection and honesty about what this moment means and what this moment demands of each of us.  It means being honest about the harms that racism causes at every turn in this country.  Acknowledging those ongoing harms requires that we really listen – perhaps for the first time – to a range of voices that can offer insights into the effects of this moment, the potential for change, the imperative for radical rethinking.

To that end, we have invited some individuals to share their voices and perspective as they grapple with – and try to make sense of – these events. As importantly, we hope that their ideas, experiences and expectations will encourage you to do the same.  Let me introduce you to the individuals who have agreed to share their perspectives in this issue.  We hear from Erwin Chemerinsky, one of the preeminent law school deans in America, who is serving as the Dean of University of California (Berkeley).  We hear from, Kim Taylor-Thompson, a law professor who served as the CEO of Duke Corporate Education, the leading Global Executive Education Company  and as the Director of  Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia before becoming a Professor of Law at NYU School of Law. We hear from William Snowden, the Executive Director of the New Orleans office of the VERA Institute of Justice. Lara Bazelon, a rising national voice on criminal justice and a talented law professor at the University of San Francisco adds her perspectives and experiences. We also hear from one of the key voices in philanthropy, Candice Jones, the Executive Director of the Public Welfare Foundation, a lawyer, a former State Commissioner of Juvenile Justice for the State of Illinois and a former White House Fellow.  Candice submitted a creative take on the issue of race and leadership sending a letter in the future to one of her relatives.    This edition also welcomes the views of a young man, Reuben Kadushin, who may someday become a lawyer, but for now sits at the dawn of his career.  He is heading to college soon and shares his personal reactions and observations as a young man of color.  David Gibbs, who is one of the editors of newsletter, began his career taking time off from law school to work for the United Farm Workers and joined academia after practicing as a corporate lawyer and mediator, wanted to write about the importance of these issues to all Americans.  And, I add my voice.  I have spent 25 years on the NYU law faculty, where I teach and write about race and leadership.  I also served as the founding Faculty Director of the Center on Race, Inequality and the Law. We hope that these articles will prompt you to reflect, discuss and take action.


Reckoning With Race

By Kim Taylor-Thompson, Professor of Clinical Law, NYU School of Law

Eight minutes and forty-six seconds. 

That was the amount of time that Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee and body weight into George Floyd’s neck.  We witnessed a police officer crush the life out of a Black man, all the while ignoring his pleas that he couldn’t breathe.  We watched that officer’s brazen disdain for Mr. Floyd as he casually kept his hand in his pocket as if killing someone routine and reflexive. We watched and re-watched a White police officer murder a Black man who posed no threat as every news outlet endlessly replayed the horror of that encounter.  That single act ended Mr. Floyd’s life, but the vulgar truth of that raw racism could not be contained. That act launched a global uprising.

As a Black woman who has grown up in this country and practiced in the criminal justice system, I was not surprised by the police lethality we witnessed. Communities of color have long known the painful truth that policing in our neighborhoods is all too often tinged with violence.  Growing up in Harlem at the height of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, I recall my parents raising my brother and me with a strong sense of identity and pride in our racial heritage, all at a time when American culture seemed intent on denying and diminishing both.  But against that backdrop, I remember quite vividly the disjunction – chasm, really — between their empowerment message and their equally vehement admonition that my brother and I should adopt an almost humiliating etiquette if the police should ever stop us. We were taught the behavioral mandate that we should react with extreme politeness and should avoid seeming at all angry in any police encounter even if we had done nothing wrong.  Those lectures always ended with the reason for their insistence, gleaned from the hard-learned lessons of too many police encounters gone wrong: “We are just trying to keep you alive.” Back then, our society forced Black folks to strategize to survive police encounters. 

It still does. As I watched George Floyd dying on that pavement, I could see myself, my husband, my nieces and nephews in his face.  I could feel his fear as his pleas that he could not breathe grew more desperate.  I could hear the resignation in his voice as he called out to his dead mother. How can anyone see that and not be changed? This was not new to me, but it was no less painful.  I felt the familiar flood of emotions: rage, revulsion, exhaustion.  Yet again, I was reminded of the life lesson that each loss of life at the hands of police teaches Black and Brown folks: that it takes less than ten minutes to turn us into a statistic.

Still, what has happened in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, for once, has given me hope. Something tectonic shifted in the country as the public took to the streets, even in the midst of a pandemic. The broad-based, intergenerational, multi-cultural uprisings marked a new chapter in the struggle for justice and racial equity. Protesters refused to be appeased by rote denunciations of the violence followed by conventional remedies: better screening of officers, better training, or the firing of a “few bad apples.” Instead, protesters took more radical stances and made bolder demands.  They insisted that we defund the police, invest in interventions to improve community health, and engage in a fundamental rethinking of what it takes to keep communities safe. In fact, these public uprisings started from a wholly different place: demanding that this country acknowledge that racism in this country is systemic, rationalized, tolerated. And the protesters continue to mulishly insist on a real reckoning on race in every system. As they should.

But, here’s my worry. This is hard work. And it is even harder to sustain the momentum for change.  Because the grand vision of racial equity seems so elusive, I worry that we might settle for the usual detritus that systems typically throw our way. Let’s declare a Juneteenth holiday. Or let’s rename a bridge.  These are all well and good, but should not top the list of changes we expect. Change does not happen sedately. And the change we seek involves nothing less than breaking this country’s racism habit. To do that requires painstaking and persistent effort to dismantle the lethal lies that feed that habit.

Make no mistake. This country’s racism is not just individual acts of intolerance and violence.  It is a racialized system conferring advantage and dominance to white people and disadvantage and subordination to folks of color.  Narratives that have driven the fiction of white supremacy and Black inferiority have been at the heart of the systems this country has built since slavery ended. These narratives are an American phenomenon – a handed-down thing – that have become culturally-embedded with intergenerational effects. The daily protests are about those intergenerational effects. 

So, staying the course means staying focused as others fight to change the subject. South Africa taught us important lessons about truth and reconciliation.  What we learned there, and we see mirrored here, is that folks really want to get to the reconciliation part. Everyone would rather just skip over the truth part.  But, truth and reconciliation are sequential.  We cannot get to where we want to go if we do not tell the truth first. That means confronting the raw, messy, heart-wrenching parts openly and honestly if we want to get to the other side.

Facing this country’s continuing legacy of racial terror is our first step. But it is a hard step.  When we look at acts of racial terror that stretch from slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration to the ever-present examples of lethal law enforcement, we see a clear through line.  This is the lived and living essence of American history – raw, unyielding and horrific.  But as Maya Angelou reminded us “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage need not be faced again.”  That is how we get to the other side. 

Each of us has a role to play. All too often, lawyers engage in incrementalism; we tinker at the edges; or worse, we take actions to preserve the status quo.  This is not the time for that. This is the time for lawyers to step up to help others envision and realize what is possible.  This is the time to help those risking everything for change to identify and to overcome the legal and political obstacles that systems erect to resist change.  This is the time to help uproot and change the narrative on race in classrooms, courtrooms, board rooms.  If we can use our positions, expertise, and voices to support those on the frontlines of change, I believe we may actually get this country to reckon honestly with race and racism. And we might come to see these uprisings less as a watershed moment that temporarily brought this country to its knees, and more as the catalyzing event that finally brought it to its senses.


What the George Floyd Protests Have Meant to Me and What Leadership on Race Should Look Like

By Lara Bazelon, Professor of Law, 
University of San Francisco School of Law

I am a professor of law at the University of San Francisco School of Law, where I direct the Criminal & Juvenile Justice Clinic and the Racial Justice Clinic.  Before that, I was the director of the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent at Loyola Law School, and earlier in my career, I was a trial lawyer in the Office of the Federal Public Defender in Los Angeles. 

As I have gone from job to job, there has been one constant: the vast majority of my clients are people of color.  And, whether the case involves allegations of misconduct in college that could result in expulsion, or felony charges of gun and drug possession that could result in years in prison, or claims that official misconduct and abysmal trial lawyering resulting in a wrongful conviction and decades of lost freedom, most of my clients are Black men.

I am also a white woman who has had many privileges and advantages in life.  That piece of biographical information seems important to convey because while I have spent most of my professional life fighting racial injustice within the criminal justice system, and even though I have dealt with a fair amount of gender bias during my twenty-year legal career, I am white.  At the end of the day, my whiteness insulates me from what my clients, students, friends, and colleagues of color have to face every day: a lack of safety, physical and emotional, that comes from knowing that in our society, their lives are less valued—even disposable.  Unlike them, I do not have a personal mistrust of institutions borne of the knowledge that the constitutional protections to which we are all entitled—the freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, the right to counsel, the right to a fair and impartial jury, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—may be trampled at any moment with lethal consequences and no accountability.

When I watched Officer Chauvin extinguish George Floyd’s life by pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd cried out for his mother and begged for his life, I felt sickened and outraged.  This was 2020, after all, and we were witnessing a modern day lynching. And I felt a terrible sense of defeat.  After decades of struggle, and signs of real progress, a Black man’s life can still be taken as if it were nothing.  Recently, I had taken some comfort, for example, in the nationwide movement to elect progressive prosecutors, including Black men and Black women, to top positions in major cities across the United States. I was hopeful that the changes they set about making—decriminalization of minor offenses, a commitment to freeing the innocent, a rejection of money bail, a bold stance against mass incarceration—were going to be long term and impactful.

Then came the killing of George Floyd.  The cold stare of the white officer, his indifference, knowing that he was being filmed, not only to Floyd but to a growing crowd of outraged bystanders—that stony, white, violent silence spoke volumes.  I can take your life, and I will. After the disgust and grief and outrage came the soul-deadening realization: George Floyd’s killing was unique only because it was particularly grotesque and because it was filmed, up close and perfectly pixilated, from start to finish. 

Perhaps it was because of these differences that Floyd’s murder ignited unprecedented international outrage, driving not solely Black people, not solely Latinx people, not solely queer people into the streets, but white people—middle class white people of relative privilege, who weeks earlier, would have expressed skepticism or even hostility to the #BLM movement.  This dramatic shift and a stated, affirmative commitment by these white people to anti-racism, makes this moment feel different—that it could be a tipping point.

Or not.  And it is up to all of us to make sure that the months-long protests sparked by George Floyd’s murder are not a blip or a temporary state of discomfort but rather a sharp corner that we as a country have collectively turned. That, for white people, there will be no going back to the well-paved path of willful ignorance.

Turning that corner, for white people, requires a commitment not only to change but to accepting how profoundly uncomfortable that change can be. Because if we do not accept that discomfort, I fear we will abandon that commitment.  Change, for white people, means an entire rethinking of power structures; for some, it can feel threatening because it calls for displacement, particularly when it means a ceding or sharing of authority. 

Leadership in dismantling the centuries-old systems that have been designed to inflict race-based harm on millions will look different than it has in the past.  White people cannot be content to be cheerleaders on the sidelines, passive donors, or temporary allies.  Posting #BLM signs in windows, writing checks to progressive causes, marching in the streets—none of that is enough.  And certainly, demanding to be at the helm of the struggle is not only presumptuous, but wrong.

So where does that leave people like me?  As I think about my students—the majority of whom are women and people of color—as I think about our clients and my friends and colleagues of color, when I think about the work we can and must do together, I think of partnership and allyship and a shared commitment.  And I understand that my commitment to this fight is to be just that: a partner and an ally.  What that means, I think, is to approach this work from a place of that is equal parts passion and humility, with a resolve to speak less and listen more.


Until the Lion Tells the Story, the Hunter Will Always Be the Hero

By William C. Snowden, Vera Institute of Justice
Founder of The Juror Project

Until the lion tells the story, the hunter will always be the hero.

African Proverb

“Why are you running so fast?” The officer questioned me after ringing his siren one time for me to stop.

I caught my breath. I knew I was not running that fast because the rest of the cross-country team was a half-mile ahead of me. But, to answer the officer’s question I dumbfoundedly looked at my green athletic tank top with the universal cross-country logo on it—two Cs with an arrow through it—and then I looked at my ridiculously short green runner’s shorts. Suspecting my outfit would not suffice as an answer I told the officer, “I’m running cross-country practice.”

“Pfft, likely story. Give me your ID.” He said.

I was 14 years old. And this would be the first of many times I would be stopped by police for simply being me—a light-skinned Black man whose father is Black and mother is white. Growing up in the Selma of the North as Milwaukee is known, with a blended background I learned a lot about race.

Seeing how Black people have been treated this year is traumatizing. I’m convinced 2020 can only get better and I must believe that because hope is a survival tactic. In the first eight months of this year, police killed 164 Black people. There are also scores of Black people who have had the police called on them this year and ones that were killed before the police even arrived, like Ahmaud Arbery. No one deserves to be treated this way.

Ahmaud’s death hit different. I cried watching the beginning video of him being hunted down. Knowing how it was going to end I could not watch anymore. I did not need to ask, “Why he was running so fast?” I knew it was for his life. Those white men saw a threat and nullified it. For no justifiable reason but for the color of his beautiful brown skin, Ahmaud Arbery was killed for simply being.

If being seen as Black can get you killed, then being seen as human must be the key to staying alive, right? That survival tactic is not offered as a suggestion to pursue colorblindness. It does, however, serve as a 21st century example of W.E.B. DuBois’ “double consciousness” discussed in, “The Souls of Black Folk.” To survive encounters with law enforcement, or wannabe vigilantes, we must develop the, “Sense of looking at one’s self through the eyes of others,” as DuBois puts it.

What a burden. To survive we must placate to the sensitivities of others while not doing anything to offend their feelings of comfort or security. But what about the discomfort and nervousness we feel when encountering the police? Don’t break the law and you have nothing to worry about, they say. Tell that to Philando Castile or George Floyd or Atatiana Jefferson or Botham Jean or Breonna Taylor. If having a valid license to carry a concealed weapon, paying with legal tender, and being in your own home is not law-abiding enough then I do not know what is.

And I’ve studied the law. I’ve seen its paradoxical application and enforcement track along racial lines. When I show up to do work dismantling this double standard, I simultaneously strategize tactics to advance racial equity in our criminal legal system. If successful, that means race will no longer be a predictor of outcome in this system.

That equilibrium, however, does not live within law, it lives within people. For our own health as people exercising leadership, we must first acknowledge, digest, and process the American Spring birthed by the killing of George Floyd. Then we must recognize the conversations we need to have to restore understanding.

Conversations are the foundation we use to build bridges between people. But conversations about race can be polarizing. Afterward they can sometimes feel like we have widened the gulf between us. This is partly due to the history of race in America and partly due to America never having a reckoning of its racist past.

I recently had one of these difficult conversations with my childhood best friend after he decided to text me the speech Kentucky’s Attorney General Daniel Cameron gave at the Republican National Convention. We mostly disagreed with our interpretations of the roles Democrats and Republicans have historically played in fueling racism in our country. My friend using a Black elected official as the representative of American values was a veiled attempt to make the conversation about party and not race.

Our disagreement was frustrating. Not because I cared about which party he was blaming for white supremacy and racism in America, or “who has done more for the Black community,” but  because I felt my friend was unwilling to name white people’s role in our racial problems today. As a Republican, it is easier for him to blame Democrats since he isn’t one. But to acknowledge the role whiteness has played in creating the racial strife of the day invokes an assumption of responsibility. Many white people today are unwilling to acknowledge the way this country has made white the default and how that default has harmed and continues to harm Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color. It seems acknowledging their white privilege takes away from their believed successes.

Despite our difficult conversation, I needed it. In today’s world it is easy to enjoy the tunes of our echo chambers we naturally surround ourselves with. But the discord he and I experienced gave me more understanding of his perspective. We must think about other conversations we need to have about race. Conversations in our classrooms, our boardrooms, and our courtrooms. What do we ask? How do we process any pain that may result from those conversations? How do we assume our perspective is wrong? Exploring these questions can help set the stage for the dialogue.

This moment in America feels different. It is clear our country is at a tipping point. And if our will is change, we must lean forward to understand the way we see each other is the way we treat each other. But absent dialogue and relationships with others from different identity groups and lived experiences our perspectives will never change. The Chinese Proverb tells us, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is now.” Our lack of conversations and dialogue about race have contributed to the racial tension we have today. By speaking with each other now, we can plant the seeds of understanding for our future.

And in the future when I speak with my Republican friend, I hope he can acknowledge that the role of party is less important in America than the role of race. Colorblindness is unacceptable. And although some white people experience racial anxiety when discussing matters of race we must continue to normalize its discussion.

Leadership in America will acknowledge and celebrate our differences while rejecting systems that normalize whiteness while making it the cultural default. Too often we rush to find out how similar we are instead of exploring and seeking out how we differ from each other. Our differences, not our similarities, make us strong.

My hope for America is that we see each other not through appearances but through understandings. By understanding our histories, stories, and experiences we will transform the way we treat each other.


Race and Leadership at a Very Important and Difficult Moment

By Erwin Chemerinsky, 
Dean and Jesse H. Choper Distinguished Professor of Law,
University of California, Berkeley School of Law

Being a law school dean in 2020 poses unprecedented challenges.  We are in the midst of a pandemic and the worst public health crisis in over a century.   Some of our students, staff, and faculty, and their loved ones, have been afflicted by COVID-19; all of us are anxious about it.  There is depression-level unemployment and many in our community are struggling.   This fall, those in California are contending with wildfires and smoke. We have turned to remote teaching and learning in order to sustain continuity in legal education, only to face rolling blackouts and the likelihood of PG&E Public Safety Power Shutdowns.

The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the more recent police shooting of Jacob Blake, as well as efforts the Black Lives Matter movement, have brought the scale and extent of anti-Black racism into sharp focus, calling for a long overdue reckoning with racism and the ongoing legacy of anti-Black violence.

Amidst all of this, we are physically separated by the closures and social distancing required to stop the spread of a deadly communicable disease.  We cannot come together to comfort one another as we would at any other time.

What does it mean to be a leader of a law school in this very difficult time?  First, there is the need to be a voice for compassion, caring, and community.  As a dean, I have the ability to speak to all in our community and it is my responsibility to do so. 

After the death of George Floyd, I wrote, in part:  “We, as a Law School, have a special role and responsibility to play in ensuring justice.  We must loudly condemn the racism that is reflected in the much greater toll of COVID-19 on communities of color and the continued police brutality and violence directed at African-Americans.   We must express solidarity with our students, staff, and faculty of color for whom this is especially difficult.  We must speak out against the great economic inequalities, especially along racial lines, in our society.  We must provide education on these issues within our Law School and to the broader community.  As a small step in that direction, we will have a program on race and policing, featuring our faculty, likely on Monday, June 8. We must work hard for solutions, through the law and the legal system, to these deep-seated problems.  Our knowledge, our tools, and our privilege impose on us an obligation to study and learn, but also to act.  And we must echo the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Second, words are not enough; it is my duty to do all I can to help those in our community.  I have tried through many actions.  Soon after we went to “shelter in place,” I created an emergency fund for students and for staff and for our café employees (who are not employees of the university.)  I have done everything I can to ensure we will not layoff any staff and to provide every reassurance I can to them.  On several occasions, I have sent gift cards and certificates for food delivery services to every member of our staff, sometimes at my own expense.  We gave all of our staff Juneteenth off work.  When the fires and smoke ravaged our community, I arranged for the law school to pay for an air filter for all students and staff who needed one.  In early June, I created a weekly series of presentations on aspects of race and the law that continued through the summer and fall.  These, of course, are just a few examples.  But it is essential that as a leader I do all I can to help those in our community.

Third, I must be exceedingly transparent and candid.  When I made the decision that all instruction in the Fall semester would be online, I wrote a lengthy message to all in the community explaining why.  I have presented our budget, in great detail to our faculty, staff, and students.  I conduct a weekly town hall via Zoom – it began daily and then twice a week – for all faculty, staff, and students to make announcements and answer questions.

Sometimes the candor requires being honest and saying what people don’t want to hear.  Many of our students strongly advocate for the defunding of the campus police and asked me to join them in that call.  I know I disappointed them in explaining that I would advocate for reforms, but not elimination of the campus police.  The university has the obligation to protect the safety and security of all on campus.  There is a need for some security.  I believe that eliminating campus police would be worse for our students.  Without campus police, the Berkeley city police and the Alameda County sheriff would have a much greater presence on campus and they are far less sensitive to students and to issues of race and policing.  But part of being a leader is exercising my best judgment and communicating it honestly, even if it is not a welcome message.

I realize that I only have begun to scratch the surface of all that has been required and done over the last months.  I have made many mistakes.  I also have learned a tremendous amount.  I just hope I don’t have to ever use many of these lessons again.