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.


Listening to the Right Voices

By Reuben Kadushin, Student, 
St. Benedicts Prep, Newark, New Jersey

Our ideas of leadership and advocacy – and who gets to exercise each — need to be completely reimagined because, so far, nothing has worked. Worse still, nothing has changed. I find it hard to expect anything close to real change as I watch the public — meaning disinterested white people – saying they want to shift the priorities of our politicians to things that actually matter.  What I am seeing doesn’t give me hope. For some reason, I don’t seem to feel the way everybody else seems to feel.

No matter how many times my phone’s screen lights up with fundraisers (for cause A), gatherings (for cause B), and videos of politicians speaking (about cause C), I still don’t feel that there will be change. I can’t find any avenue that gives me any semblance of closure — anything that could make me feel like these “actions” will actually move America’s boulder of inequality any closer off the precipice where it has been poised for decades. 

I’m eighteen years old. I’m half white and half black. My father has been called a white supremacist for suggesting the community of the predominately white private school I used to attend was prejudiced. Most of my friends never had an opportunity to attend that school. And most of my friends live in some of the East Coast’s most dangerous cities and have received government assistance at some point in their lives! These two worlds that I inhabit are separated by more than race, economics and culture. They are separated by voice, power and experience.

So, when I was asked to write about what I felt racial justice leadership needs to look like today, I reflected on all of the experiences in those worlds.  I thought about the men I call my brothers and the contradictions between the communities my blood is bound to and a million social media think- pieces and fundraisers created to further “combat racism.” When I think about the chasm between these worlds, I feel frightened about what the phrase “racial justice” might actually mean to the public.  Because the words “race” and “justice” seem to be confined to the scope of White Americans’ pangs, defined and limited by their own experiences. And, somehow, even in this moment, the most vulnerable members of our inner cities remain voiceless in our conversations about “racial justice” as everybody else gets to define the term. Maybe this exposes what the word “everybody” really means.  

When I say that I’m black, I’m saying that I, and others like me, can be discriminated against, even to the extent of being killed, because of a history attached to something as absurd and stupid as the pigment in my skin. Because I can say that I’m black while not being “black” exemplifies that any issue of “racial justice” that cannot be changed through an addition of funding and resources on some destitute block only exists in our imaginations. Our insistence to treat racism as a concept — another problem to be studied and brooded over — causes us to suffer from a murderous lack of urgency. We approach the tragedies that take place along our urban projects not as catastrophes, but with morbid apathy. Black Death is a part of some romantic struggle that commodifies trauma and leads conservatives to pretend that black deaths are the effects of the black man’s innate, savage promiscuousness: “just the way it is on that side of the city.” On May 13, 2020, a 16-year-old named Tyquan Howard was murdered in his own neighborhood.  His death didn’t make the headlines for more than 48 hours after he was killed. He didn’t have a hashtag. He didn’t have a march. The public seems incapable of facing an issue that lacks a clear enemy — that is not “black versus white.” Race issues are complex and require real dialogue. Consequently, somehow, the deaths of young men like Tyquan don’t matter to anybody except to the people who must carefully maneuver how they’ll travel to and from home, school and work, to avoid being killed, or robbed, or beaten. The fight for racial justice needs to treat Tyquan’s death as unacceptable.

In 21st century America, the fight for racial justice must have two sides: an economic side and a racial side. The economic fight will center on classism — advocating for livable wages, improved housing conditions, well-resourced schools – to reverse the ways that the “ruling classes” have profited from the inequities. And, of course, the economic fight is inextricably linked to racism’s effects. The racial fight will center on the suffering imposed by racism’s cultural effects — police violence, lynchings, and the policies bias allows — which limit opportunity in more nuanced ways. In every way, economic inequities and racism perpetuate each other. They are symbiotic.

The fight for racial and economic justice must be led by the members of marginalized communities. They are the ones with the relevant perspective — the urgency — to define the problem fully and to propose solutions that will work on the ground. The role of everybody else is to listen, to mirror, and to avoid intruding on these voices. Then the public can work to help realize those solutions and secure the funding to put them in practice. Relying solely on academic leaders, charismatic figureheads, celebrities, community-engaged politicians, and social media activists, creates too much distance between the platforms and the people. We don’t need individuals in pulpits; we need change now, not in 10 years, or a generation or two. Too many people are dying, starving, and boiling under our noses. With no means of relaying that they are not ideas, but lives.

We need to create the opportunities for affected communities to work toward meaningful racial justice. Poor living conditions and financial stress create communities no longer privileged with the space and time to reflect collectively and realize collective goals and issues. But given the chance and space to think and learn from one another –which marginalized groups are too often denied – could lead to something profound. Though the term has such a negative, idealist connotation, this is where “revolutionary action” happens. And if you chuckle as you read this, let me ask you this: Why would we want anything less? To say that America as a first world power does not need a complete reorganization within its structures is to deny that there is undeserving, unimaginable, suffering happening here at home. One might argue that nothing I’m saying seems plausible. And I would counter, whether it seems plausible to you does not matter! I am not talking about abstract notions – “isms” and “ology’s.” I’m talking about real people whose lives are inexorably altered and harmed by systemic inequities. Our reality as a country doesn’t seem plausible. We are operating at a tenth of our potential when we deny millions of people a chance at controlling their own fate. And that is unacceptable. Racial justice leadership demands new thinking and new advocacy if we expect to make change. And change will only happen if it is grounded in the lived-experiences of marginalized people and their communities.  


“One Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” A Pledge To Be Fulfilled

By David H. Gibbs, Visiting Leadership Fellow, 
University of Tennessee College of Law

I believe that racial justice is and has been the most challenge facing America. Since the beginning of American society, African Americans and other individuals of color  have been denied their inalienable rights, fundamental freedoms and have suffered oppression and violence.  The roots of racial injustice are beyond the scope of this short piece.  Suffice it to say that racism has lived in the hearts and minds of many Americans and has been deeply rooted in the structures of our society.

These are some thoughts about our history and our shared destiny.

Over 150 years after the civil war, more than half a century since the Civil Rights Act of 1965, and twelve years after the election of the first African American president, we are still struggling with the legacy of injustice, institutional racism, economic discrimination, violence, and white supremacy.  

Talking about racism is uncomfortable. And it should be. We know that it is wrong and must realize that our discomfort is not the problem—it is the centuries of suffering from injustice. 

Yet, what does this have to do with me? My ancestors did not own slaves and lived in Eastern Europe, where they were denied rights and freedoms and subject to discrimination and violence.

The answer is simply stated in the Pledge of Allegiance:  that we are one nation, indivisible and, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said,

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

For me this concept begins with the teachings of Genesis that each of us is made in the image of the Creator; that we are of the same family descended from Adam and Eve; and that we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. As Franklin Roosevelt is reported to have said to Joe Louis before a boxing match with the so-called “Aryan superman,” Max Schmeling, “Joe, you are a credit to your race—the human race.”

It is in the foundation of our political compact in the Declaration of Independence, which represents both the promise and contradiction of America. 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

While many founders were aware of the contradiction between slavery and this vision, it is unclear whether they even considered women’s exclusion from participation in the new government. These inalienable rights on which American society is based were recognized—not created by – the Declaration or the Constitution.

The ending of slavery, which was accomplished by force of arms at the cost of over 800,000 lives, was codified by the 13th Amendment during the Lincoln presidency. When after the war, African Americans were denied their fundamental rights and subjected to horrific violence, it was quickly understood that without the right to vote and equal protection of the law, African Americans would not enjoy the blessings of liberty and would be reduced to a state close to slavery. During the Grant administration, progress was made by the deployment of federal troops, the suppression of the Klu Klux Klan, and the 14th and 15th Amendments. 

Tragically, after Grant’s presidency, federal troops were withdrawn from the South, and African – Americans were subject to a dark period of oppression and violence, which left the promises of the Declaration of Independence and the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments unfulfilled. Nor was the rest of the country free from racism that limited their enjoyment of their fundamental rights, economic progress, and left them subject to violence.

After the defeat of Nazi Germany and its doctrine of Aryan racial superiority, the majority of Americans knew that it was time for racial progress in America. Fortunately, Martin Luther King, Jr. and others’ leadership, as well as the courage of so many African Americans who withstood violence, water hoses, police dogs, arrests, and bombings led us forward.

Yet, the truth is that we have never had a true reckoning of racism in our country, let alone taken actions necessary to repair the damage done.  We have no peace and reconciliation commission like other countries.  We are often content addressing only the surface with platitudes that prejudice is wrong, and we have not looked deeper into our history and present-day institutions and practices that perpetuate racial injustice in  schools, policing, prisons and so many aspects of our country. 

One of my heroes is George Washington, who was troubled by slavery and had a troubling role as a slaveholder. When I visited the magnificent estate he designed at Mount Vernon, I struggled because every building, like many in our nation’s capital, was built by slaves.  

We know that racism did not end with slavery, the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, or the election of Barack Obama. At the end of the Civil War, African Americans owned less than one percent of the country’s wealth, and in 2019 African Americans owned less than two percent, even though they are over 13% of the population. This was not an accident or bad luck but often the result of overt, institutional, and legal discrimination, especially in government programs. (For an overview see https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/06/19/why-racial-wealth-gap-persists-more-than-years-after-emancipation/ by Calvin Schermerhorn,). For example, while there were over 76,000 GI mortgages provided in the New York/Northern New Jersey area, African Americans GI’s received less than one-hundred and only a handful received GI mortgages in Alabama and Georgia.

White supremacy remains a dangerous problem. When Americans travel to Europe, we do not see monuments to Hitler, Goering, and Himmler. Our soldiers do not serve in Fort Hitler, Fort Goering, or Fort Himmler. Yet we see monuments erected and military bases named after men who committed treason and believed in white supremacy. This is not just the distant past. In 2000, the year the first African American was elected the mayor of Selma, Alabama, a statue of Nathan Bedford Forest was erected. Forest was a traitor and a war criminal who executed captured soldiers because they were African American. He was never punished  or rebuked by the confederacy or its generals for these murders. He was a terrorist who helped founded the Klu Klux Klan and was its first grand wizard.

We must also be honest and recognize that the American legal system, which gave us Brown v. Board Education, Justice Thorogood Marshal, and other champions of justice, has been a tool for oppression, just as the German legal system was used against Jews and others. In fact, Nazi legal scholars studied the Jim Crow laws in developing their inhuman legal system. Unfortunately, our legal history includes Dred Scott v. Sanford, Plessy v. Ferguson, Korematsu v. U.S., and, most recently, Shelby County v. Holder, which effectively ended the Voting Rights Act’s protections for people of color. After the decision, states of former confederacy and others adopted laws with the intent and effect to limit the right to vote to people of color.

The legal education community must be honest, as well.

• At how many law schools do black and other students of color pay more than white students and why do they fail the bar at much higher rates?

• How many law school faculties still fail to include a representative number of individuals of color fifty-five years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965?

• At how many law schools are status, tenure, power, and compensation concentrated disproportionately with white males?

Do students and society have a right to know the answers and why change has been so slow?

We must not be silent or complacent. As was said during the sixties, “you are either the part of the solution or part of the problem—there is no neutral ground.

We must wake up, listen, and learn from those who have suffered from racial injustice and look honestly at ourselves and our organizations to ensure we do not perpetuate racial injustice.

Also, good leadership sometimes requires good followership—if there is such a word. We must support the voices and leadership of those who experienced racial injustice and can point the way forward.

Finally, we must truly embrace the concept that we are one nation, one people of many peoples and cultures, and that our destinies are bound together. At a conference about two years ago, I heard speaker after speaker describe how racial injustice and economic disparities were growing in major cities and how the traditional remedies were not working. After hearing that the election of officials of color, Black capitalism, government programs, and new laws were not solving these problems, I asked one of the speakers what should be done.  She said while all of these actions were positive, until people saw the members of racial minorities as their country men and women, equally entitled to participate in our society, progress would be limited.

I am an optimist and believe that we can and must act now to fulfill the promise of America and achieve racial justice. As the Hillel said, 

If I am not for me, who will be for me?
And if I am for myself alone, what am I?
And if not now, then when?


The Need to Make a Moment a Movement

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

This moment that we find ourselves in as a nation, as a people, and as a profession is the natural consequence of ignoring racial bias for generations. As I get older and advance toward the end of my career, I recognize that my mentor, friend, and colleague Professor Derrick Bell had it right:  There is a permanence to American racism.  It is engrained in the very fiber of our nation. America was founded on the mythology of white supremacy and Black inferiority.

In every ensuing generation, this nation has chosen to cling to that lie and to belie its intergenerational effects because far too many benefitted from that framing.  Being complicit was just easier than facing the hard truth of allowing that racist lie to persist.

But the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery changed that. The sheer brutality of Derek Chauvin as he pressed his knee on George Floyd’s neck forced a moment of reflection on America’s collective conscience. Those callous moments tore the blindfold off of the fiction that justice is blind. Many in this country and around the world watched those 8 minutes and 46 seconds of the torture and murder of an unarmed Black man over and over again. What we saw was all too familiar to Black Americans. That violence was an extreme example of life in America for Black Americans. But it was just the tip of an iceberg of the racism that has become common, accepted and routinized in this country. 

We sit back as white Americans weaponize 911 to patrol and enforce perceived racial boundaries. We accept as normal a relative absence of Black Americans in our state and federal legislatures, business leadership, and personal and social circles.  We tolerate the racial differential in infection and death rates from COVID-19 as acceptable losses. Turning a blind eye to racism and racialized effects has become reflexive.

But this moment demands an unprecedented change in what we accept, encourage and tolerate with regard to racism in America. This is not the time for a comfortable, academic conversation about “diversity and inclusion.” It is, instead, time to do something that we too often look to avoid: we must  fundamentally reckon with racism and its continued presence in our society. This reckoning is long overdue, but if we expect the principles of justice, democracy, equity which we hold so dear to do more than ring hollow, we need to take this moment seriously.  America is faced with a choice today. That choice will affect the direction of our nation and our profession. A momentum has built up propelling us toward racial equity and racial justice. We cannot afford to turn back.

As we look to make meaning in this moment of upheaval, make no mistake. This is not only about the sudden deaths of Black people in America, but it is also about the slower, less visible effects of the daily microaggressions that Black people experience and endure. The openly racist comments and the less explicit dog whistles combine to make the experience of America more dangerous and more volatile for Black folks. When we add the economic chokehold that results from the countless ways that this country cuts off avenues of prosperity, economic opportunity, education opportunity, and social interaction for Black Americans, we begin to see the pervasive and corrosive effects of racism run rampant.

So, what does leadership look like in this moment of racial reckoning in America? It must mean more than what we have routinely seen as the standard response: everyone and every institution rushes to issue an anti-racism statement and then pledges a contribution to a civil rights organization. That will not be enough in this moment. Leadership begins with acknowledging both our history and our present experiences with race and racism. We must accept our part in the national reality that we have created two nations: one with access to all that America has to offer and one without that access.

Leadership means looking internally at our own institutions, workplaces, and social circles and no longer accepting circumstances that exclude Black people no matter the rationale or reasoning. In law schools, law firms, and businesses across the country we have tolerated such low numbers of African Americans in these spaces for so long that we have become inured to their absence. Single digits of Black students and Black faculty in law schools seems to somehow fit in the natural order of things. But there is nothing natural about this.

My law students rightfully ask me about the lack of African American law students, law faculty, law school Deans, law firm partners, prosecutors, defenders, judges and others in our profession. They astutely observe that some of their classes, particularly their first-year classes, make no reference of race and they ask why.  They ask critical questions about the reasons that we developed doctrines such as qualified immunity for police officers who murder unarmed Black men and women and other legal protections for racist conduct that has led to the unequal treatment of African Americans. What I tell them is that, notwithstanding what some typically insist, the American legal system, the analysis of American legal doctrine, and the teaching of legal reasoning cannot take place without fully grappling with the role of race and history. The notion that the law can be taught in some sort of non-racial, theoretical vacuum is fundamentally flawed.

We, as teachers, and they, as students, have an affirmative obligation to continue to think deeply about the law, its toxic foundations and its continuing inequities.  Racial bias is not some static, historical phenomenon that happened once upon a time during slavery and then reappeared momentarily before the civil rights movement in the 1960s.  Racism is part of our day to day existence. And even though law professors — and lawyers more generally — are loathe to be uncomfortable in a room, we must get comfortable being uncomfortable if we expect to make this moment count.

Leadership means at its core that, going forward, we will not accept microagressions, implicit bias, disparate treatment, or all-white environments under any circumstances. Instead,  we commit to questioning and challenging those systems, structures and professional and social situations that do not have Black people at the table. Moreover, leadership in this moment means that we agree to take it upon ourselves to learn about African Americans and the communities and circumstances in which they live. Black people have always needed to know about White America – its history, its norms, its culture – to survive.  But the reverse has not been true.  It is time that we change that – to be race-conscious and to change the nature of the conversations we have so that we can begin to change the experiences in this country.  Perhaps then we can become one nation instead of two.


Armed with History: A Letter to My Niece’s Granddaughter

By Candice C. Jones, Executive Director 
of the Public Welfare Foundation

Author’s Note: Policy advances are often tempered by what advocates believe they can accomplish in their existing climate. In doing so, they lose sight of truly audacious goals – goals that are bigger than any one person’s individual legacy. It is when we step back and take full consideration of how the eyes of history will look upon our actions that we most clearly see where we must head. For that reason, this article is written as a letter to the future, crafted to explain what we demanded to begin to achieve racial equity and justice in America to a future generation.

To my niece’s granddaughter on your 16th birthday,

You are being provided with these letters from your ancestors because you are a part of the group that has been subjugated by this Nation for multiple millennia. These letters aim to further contextualize your history in this country in a deeply personal way.

My name is Candice C. Jones, and I wrote this letter in the year 2035 during an extraordinary period in this Nation’s racial history.[1] We demanded this coursework as partial quittance to demonstrate the menacing terror that was meted out against Blacks in this country from the time our ancestors arrived on the colonial shores until this letter writing.

I was an attorney who was dedicated to eradicating a blunt tool of racial terror, the criminal justice system. In my lifetime, the criminal justice system was used to reinforce racial hierarchies and our community’s subjugation. From the time I was a small child on the west-side of Chicago, I could see its menacing presence in our community. The men in our family were hunted in the streets of Chicago like big game on a reserve. Like slavery had been justified as America’s economic engine in its time, the criminal justice system was touted as necessary for accountability and retribution in a Nation that had never been held to account for humanity’s greatest sin.

I saw this firsthand when I ran a youth prison system. As the number of youth in custody declined and the State budget crisis raged on, the next step seemed simple: we needed to close prisons and redirect the dollars back to communities where youth resided.[2] Yet the public debate and media coverage focused on prisons serving as economic and job engines.[3] No one saw or cared that we were allowing the economic interests of some to be tied to the bondage of others. There was no lack of evidence regarding the system’s bias[4], but we allowed ourselves to rationalize its necessity. By extension, we sanctioned its inherent inhumanity.[5]

The year 2020 was a beginning of sorts. We were fighting a global pandemic that was killing Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people at a rate that far exceeded those in the white population.[6]  Then, over the Memorial Day holiday, a video showing the brutal murder by police of a man named George Floyd ripped open a wound that had festered for years.[7] His killing unleashed a rage that had been smoldering just below the surface. That rage gave way to a meaningful acknowledgment of America’s racial terror and the recompense that you should now be receiving as a result.  

We fought for three major rights in the years following 2020: reconciliation, which included a full-throated acknowledgment of past harms and a process of facilitated conversations; re-education, a system designed to finally address equity and the truth of America’s history; and, at long last, recompense to Black Americans for the horrors throughout American history and their contemporary mutations.

It is hard to know which one of these was the hardest to achieve. Recompense angered many because it finally offered subjugated people tangible reparation for harms endured. But re-education and reconciliation mandated the participation of all, including the oppressing majority and their children.  These latter wins required a revisiting and rewriting of history, one that challenged notions of individual freedom and further explained our national appetite for accountability. 


Reconciliation was the beginning of our process. Some believed it should have been the only thing pursued, as was done in South Africa following apartheid. The public framing of the need for reconciliation and the process to achieve it was eloquent. We were in a battle for the soul of a Nation.

The process offered an opportunity to mount a mass public engagement campaign that would serve to educate the country of the Nation’s abuses against Black Americans and build the momentum necessary to achieve the two rights that would follow. The American appetite for accountability and retribution was easily drained when extended to repairing harms to descendants of enslaved Africans as opposed to being used against them. As a result, the calls for quick acknowledgment and forgiveness were loud.

We borrowed from the reparations’ processes following Japanese Internment and World War II.[8] Understanding how a disfavored minority could win the empathy and attention of the world was critically important.[9] We knew we needed to design a well-orchestrated process with a clear intent from the beginning. The process gave way to sweeping legislative reform that transformed the criminal justice system’s footprint and forced us, like Germany after World War II, to interrogate all state-sanctioned actions in light of our past abuses.[10]


We started out believing we just needed to design coursework on race for all school-aged children. Early ideas to build the coursework into curriculums included awarding funding to districts that adopted the standards and revising core parts of Title 1, which provided significant resources to large urban school districts to ensure that most students were getting access.[11] However, in heated debates, it was apparent that we would never get to real re-education and, more significantly, equity without a more fundamental shift.

The country had codified inequity by allowing its education system to be both separate and patently unequal. We had to first address the disaggregated structure of the American education system that allowed wide variation and stark inequities.[12] Like Derrick Bell, we needed to interrogate what – or whether – we had won anything in Brown v. Board. We researched work in specific states, like Massachusetts, that had overhauled education and was one of the few states whose students could compete on an international scale.[13] We also looked to Nordic democracies that significantly outperformed the United States academically and provided models of democratic nations that offered a uniform standard of high-quality education.[14] These models were the basis of our redesign of the American education system to guarantee real equity. We then created a national curriculum on race and America’s history of racial terror. We needed to ensure that America’s history would finally be taught, but we first had to deconstruct an education system that served to lock Black Americans into poverty.    


In 1952, the Israeli Prime Minster argued recompense for Jewish property stolen during the Holocaust was necessary, “so that murders do not become the heirs.”[15]  In contrast, when America abolished slavery, it allowed the spoils of centuries of forced labor, exploitation, and ritual torture to pass to the oppressors without being offered as reparation in whole, or in part, to those who had been oppressed. 

The debate regarding reparations for American slavery has raged since shortly after the institution was abolished.[16] In the years following 2020, further debate and delay were no longer acceptable. Internal activism, accompanied by international pressure, forced the country to offer Black Americans three forms of recompense: cash payments; free post-secondary education for the number of years the institution of slavery existed; and significant Federal investments in Black communities through federally-backed home loans, national service funding, and small business loans. This reparative investment plan was implemented nationwide.  

It is hard to offer words to explain how hard it was to be alive at this time; to fully recognize the potential that had been strangled out of our community through lack of access, underestimation, and structural violence was almost too much to bear. Reconciliation, to end the systemic gaslighting of Blacks in America; re-education to ensure you have full access to the American dream and are armed with your history; and recompense, a small measure of investment in those that are alive today to begin laying a better foundation of wealth and stability for your generation, were what we could muster. I pray they have served you.   

[1] A footnote on racial terror: 1619 creation of racial hierarchies; the 1831 rebellion; the 1863 emancipation; the 1877 end of reconstruction; summer of 1919; massacre of 1921; 1955 Emmett Till murder; 1957 race riots; 1963 Malcolm X killing, Bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church; 1964 initiation of the War on Poverty; 1968 Martin Luther King killing; 1971 initiation of the War on Drugs; 1992 LA Uprising; 1994 Crime Bill; 2016 Charleston Church Shooting; 2020.

[2] Jones, C. (2015, February 12). United States, Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice. Retrieved from www2.illinois.gov/idjj/Documents/DJJ IYC-Kewanee Closure Statement.pdf#search=kewanee closure

[3] Nelson, S. (2016, February 12). Hundreds of jobs cut as state decides to close juvenile detention center in Kewanee. WQAD-8 ABC News. Retrieved from https://www.wqad.com/article/news/local/drone/8-in-the-air/hundreds-of-jobs-cut-as-state-decides-to-close-juvenile-detention-center-in-kewanee/526-61e747ee-be55-4c55-b7c0-fe8fe40c51ab

[4] The Sentencing Project. (2018, April 19). Report to the United Nations on Racial Disparities in the U.S. Criminal Justice System. Retrieved https://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/un-report-on-racial-disparities/

[5] Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE). (2010, September 8). United States Human Rights Violations In Correctional Practices. Retrieved from https://lib.ohchr.org/HRBodies/UPR/Documents/session9/US/CURE_CitizensUnitedforRehabilitationofErrants_Annex1.pdf

[6] Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, August 18). COVID-19 Hospitalization and Death by Race/Ethnicity. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/investigations-discovery/hospitalization-death-by-race-ethnicity.html

[7] Altman, A. (2020, June 4). Why The Killing of George Floyd Sparked an American Uprising. Time Magazine. Retrieved from https://time.com/5847967/george-floyd-protests-trump/

[8] Laremont, R. R. (2001). Jewish and Japanese American Reparations: Political Lessons for the Africana Community. Journal of Asian American Studies, 4(3), 235-250. doi:10.1353/jaas.2001.0031

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] U.S. Department of Education. (2018, November 07). Title I, Part A Program. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/programs/titleiparta/index.html#:~:text=Schools in which children from, of the lowest-achieving students.

[12] Semuels, A. (2016, August 25). Good School, Rich School; Bad School, Poor School. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/08/property-taxes-and-unequal-schools/497333/

[13] OECD. (2016). Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) Results from PISA 2015 Massachusetts. Retrieved https://www.oecd.org/pisa/PISA-2015-United-States-MA.pdf

[14] OECD. (2019). Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) Results from PISA 2018 Norway. Retrieved  https://www.oecd.org/pisa/publications/PISA2018_CN_NOR.pdf

[15] Ben-Gurion, David. (1952, January 7). German Reparations Debate in Israel.

[16] Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice. (2007, February). Slavery and Justice.  Retrieved https://www.brown.edu/Research/Slavery_Justice/documents/SlaveryAndJustice.pdf


AALS Annual Meeting

The program will address the key issues of engaging students and young lawyers in developing their leadership skills and attributes, including leading teams, managing crises, and innovating change. The program examines how faculty can engage their students in learning how to be lawyer-leaders and thereby assists law faculty in learning how to engage their students in personal and professional development. The program builds on the notion that leadership education has been shown to advance the critical skills, professional values, and competencies of lawyers, as well as their development as influential professional and community leaders. 

  • Garry W. Jenkins, University of Minnesota Law School 
  • Douglas A. Blaze, University of Tennessee College of Law 
  • Hillary A. Sale, Georgetown University Law Center 
  • Mitchell Zuklie, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP 


Just as the newsletter was going to “press,” we all began to face the personal and professional challenges arising from COVID-19.  I hope everyone is healthy, safe, and successfully navigating educational distancing. 

Everyone is adjusting as necessary, including Leah Teague and Baylor Law.  The terrific conference planned for last month, and mentioned below, is being rescheduled to the fall.  Stay tuned for more information and please plan to attend.  It will provide a great opportunity for all of us to catch up and share our experiences.

Crises like these present powerful leadership lessons for all of us.  I encourage everyone to share teaching ideas and experiences through the section listserv.   I have received lots of great suggestions from members of the section about specific teaching challenges, like how to replace experiential field placement opportunities when the placements close. 

We are all in this together.  Stay safe and good luck!

The second year of our Leadership Section was a tremendous success!  While a lot of people contributed significantly over the past year, special thanks are due to the section chair, Leah Jackson Teague, and Deborah Rhode, the immediate past chair.  Without their vision, leadership, and hand work, there wouldn’t be a Leadership Section.

By all accounts, the section program at the annual meeting was inspiring and thought-provoking – and in the top ten of program attendance.  Everyone I have talked to spoke very highly about the remarks of the panel members, ABA President Judy Perry Martinez, Judge Robert Wilkins of the DC Circuit, and LSC President Jim Sandman, and the moderator Dean Martha Minnow.  (While I was sorry to miss it, I am pleased to report that leadership training has a firm foothold at the University of Queensland law school in Brisbane). Fortunately, the audio recordings and transcript of the program are available in this newsletter.  Thanks to Stephen Rispoli and the folks at Baylor for making that possible.

I hope everyone is aware of the upcoming Vision for Leadership Conference hosted by Baylor Law School, March 26 and 27 in Waco, Texas. Leah Teague and her team have put together a wonderful conference.  As you will see from the schedule, the program includes prominent leaders from the legal profession, legal education, the judiciary, and politics.  I encourage everyone to consider attending.

The Baylor symposium will be the fourth in a series of successful leadership conferences – Hofstra, Tennessee, and Santa Clara – since our section was approved.  Be sure to check out the article in this issue by Ellen Yaroshefsky about the Hofstra Leading Through Difference Conference. 

Over 85 law schools now have leadership courses or programs.  Kate Barton highlights one of them, the Konduros Leadership Development Program at the University of South Carolina, in this issue.    Section membership is now over 250.  You have a committed, enthusiastic group of people serving on the Executive Committee.  We all look forward to working with you over the next year to maintain the momentum.

Under the leadership of Don Polden, plans are being developed for the Section Program at the 2021 AALS Annual Meeting in San Francisco.  The theme for the meeting is “The Power of Words.”  If you have suggestions, I encourage you to contact me, Don, or any other member of the Executive Committee.

We could also use your help on another issue.  We have yet to find a simple, accessible, and organized method to share course materials, syllabi, and program information with each other.  If you have any suggestions, please let me know. 

Thanks to all of you for your interest, energy, and effort.  Your work matters.  You are making a difference in the personal and professional lives of our students.   You are helping to advance our understanding of leadership and leadership development.  You are having a very positive impact on the future of our schools, our profession, and our country.

Thanks.  I look forward to working with all of you.



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.


Leading Differently Across Differences Conference

On November 8, 2019 more than 250 lawyers, academics, deans, judges and public service professionals gathered for a day long interactive conference at the Bar of the Association of the City of New York to explore why it is so difficult to diversify the legal profession. The conference challenge was “Why don’t we do better in leadership around equity and inclusion?”

Organized by the Freedman Institute for Legal Ethics at the Maurice A Deane School of Law, it was cosponsored by the AALS Leadership Section, seven New York area law schools, the New York State Unified Court System, several prominent national law firms and private sponsors. The planning committee included the AALS Leadership Section executive committee whose members are national figures in leadership training.

The conference asked and sought to provide answers to: How do we promote leadership training in law schools in a more inclusive and forward-thinking manner? How does the profession and the academy confront the need to develop cultural competence, deal with gender, race, and other identities affecting full participation, and address generational differences? Why have we not done better in equity and inclusion? The conference acknowledged that legal profession and law schools exist in a time of profound changes in the culture and in lawyering across various fields and it behooves us to do better.

The introduction by conference organizer, Professor Ellen Yaroshefsky, noted that we do not even have a common language and framework to discuss these difficulty issues. We are communities of many identities and relationships to power. We can be privileged in one environment but excluded in another. The notion of who is an insider and who is an outsider is relative depending on the environment in which one finds oneself. We need to change ourselves, our colleagues and our institutions. This conference of intense and engaging discussions attempted to begin that process.

NYU Professor Tony Thompson’s introductory keynote was a provocative presentation that addressed why leadership training is necessary and what it means in a diverse world. He challenged us to make diversity, equity and inclusion the center of leadership training. How do we do it?

Professors Susan Sturm and Akilah Folami then engaged in a conversation that began to explore this question. They noted that we need to begin to navigating a set of tensions as part of both lawyer-leadership development generally and building the capacity to navigate across difference. Law may be reactive, but leadership is proactive. Lawyers learn to be risk averse, but leadership requires risk-taking. These tensions, among others in legal training, present profound challenges and we sought to begin to drill down to identify skills and competencies necessary to enable the next generation to confront these challenges.

The conference explored these issues through interactive panels and presentations about law practice, and the legal academy. The academic panel with Deans Angela Omwuachi-Willig of Boston University School of Law, Dean Song Richardson of the University of California, Vice Dean Ann Cammett and Dean of Admissions Degna Levister, both of CUNY Law School and Professor Susan Jones of George Washington Law School provided concrete ideas to diversify law schools. Among the suggestions was to change the pipeline into law school by reexamining admission criteria. Law schools should start relying heavily on applicants’ past history demonstrating emotional intelligence, grit, perseverance and other factors instead of the LSAT and grades main paradigm. Consider more than standard measures of success. Other concrete suggestions included changing syllabi and exercises to incorporate methods of learning beyond casebooks; to change the 1L curriculum to reflect a more diverse culture; create spaces to confront unfairness entrenched in the law; talk about and normalize experiences of failure to relieve pressure on students; create effective mentorships; reduce costs whenever possible by considering use of older casebooks and online readings; and provide implicit bias trainings for all students and faculty alike on an ongoing basis. Overall, on this panel and the others throughout the day, there was agreement that one day diversity trainings are insufficient. Race and gender needs to be included in every conversation, particularly ones around leadership training.

The panel entitled Leadership on Cross Cultural Competencies: Race and Ethnicity, drilled down into particular competencies necessary for effective leadership including experiences of growth by “learning to be uncomfortable” in exploring race and ethnicity. The remarkable panelists from the bench, bar and academy challenged the audience to have frank and difficult conversations, to start reframing issues when discussing diversity with white colleagues, to recognize that race and gender are difficult topics, and that cultural change comes via short term shifts. Judge Julie Bernard of the Massachusetts District Court described how she and others worked moved that court toward greater equity and inclusion by constant engagement, not a day long implicit bias training.

The Leadership and Gender panel began with Professor Sweetha Ballakrishnen exploring the issue of how we define gender followed by Professor Deborah Rhode discussing the structural impediments to the advancements of women in the profession. The engaging conversation among panelists including former federal Judge Shira Scheindlin, Aisha Greene, the director of attorney development at the Cadwalader firma and Cecilia Loving, the Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Fire Department who had remarkable success in diversifying the fire department.

The unique panel that ended the day was Leadership Across Generations. Listening to the perspectives of millennials, Gen X and Gen Z pointed to the critical need to address cultural differences among generations including issues such as work-life balance, work direction, mindfulness and most significantly, coping with student debt. These lawyers and law students who are future of this profession challenged the audience to change and to acknowledge incorporations of new voices in leadership.

The excitement in the room throughout the day was palpable and there is an acknowledged need to continue these conversations and develop concrete plans to move forward. This includes developing resource materials for law schools, ongoing conferences and programs and vehicles for effective communication.

Many have asked if the conference was recorded. It was not because the panelists wanted the opportunity to speak freely.

The following reading includes books and articles on leadership, diversity in the profession, race and ethnicity in the training of lawyers, gender and the legal profession and students as leaders and is first step to accomplishing this goal.


  • Anthony C. Thompson, Dangerous Leaders: How and Why Lawyers Must Be Taught to Lead (2018)
  • Deborah Rhode, Lawyers as Leaders (2013)
  • Stacey Abrams, Lead From the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change (2019)


  1. Donald Polden, Lawyers, Leadership, and Innovation, 58 Santa Clara L. Rev. 427 (2019)
  2. Barry Z. Posner, Leadership Development in Law Schools: Myths, Principles, and Practices, 58 Santa Clara L. Rev. 399 (2019)
  3. Deborah L. Rhode, Preparing Leaders: The Evolution of a Field and the Stresses of Leadership, 58 Santa Clara L. Rev. 411 (2019)
  4. Rachel F. Moran, The Three Ages of Modern American Lawyering and the Current Crisis in the Legal Profession and Legal Education, 58 Santa Clara L. Rev. 453 (2019)
  5. R. Lisle Baker, Character and Fitness for Leadership: Learning Interpersonal Skills, 58 Santa Clara L. Rev. 525 (2019)
  6. Douglas A. Blaze, Law Student Motivation, Satisfaction, and Well-Being: The Value of a Leadership and Professional Development Curriculum, 58 Santa Clara L. Rev. 547 (2019)
  7. Neil Hamilton, Leadership of Self: Each Student Taking Ownership Over Continuous Professional Development/Self-Directed Learning, 58 Santa Clara L. Rev. 567 (2019)
  8. Louis D. Bilionis, Law School Leadership and Leadership Development for Developing Lawyers, 58 Santa Clara L. Rev. 601 (2019)
  9. Leah Witcher Jackson Teague, Training Lawyers for Leadership: Vitally Important Mission for the Future Success (And Maybe Survival) of the Legal Profession and Our Democracy, 58 Santa Clara L. Rev. 633 (2019)





  • Deborah Rhode, Women and Leadership (2013)



These materials can be accessed at: