Leadership 101: Things You May Not Have Learned in Law School

By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 16, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If you didn't see "Leadership for Lawyers" in your law school curriculum, that's probably because it wasn't there.

But it should be, according to some educators. In a time when fewer people consider law school as an option, says one scholar, more law students and law schools should develop leadership skills.

"It is a moment of transformational change, calling for leadership in many nonprofit, government and business communities," says David G. Delaney, a senior fellow at the University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security, Francis King Carey School of Law.

Leadership Training

Where law schools may be lacking, professional organizations have filled in. The American Bar Association has integrated leadership training into its programs, including the ABA Bar Leadership Institute. But it appears to be a challenge for law schools.

"Infusing leadership into the education environment is even more demanding because it requires law schools to change, develop and integrate many courses together," Delaney wrote for the ABA's Legal Rebels.

Stanford Law School, however, offers a course called "Lawyers and Leadership." It focuses on "responsibilities and challenges for those who occupy leadership roles, with particular emphasis on those seeking to use law as a vehicle for social and organizational change."

Other schools, such as the University of Chicago Law School, have sponsored programs to help students develop leadership. "The Keystone Professionalism and Leadership Program," which focuses on soft skills such as interpersonal communications and career management, blossomed with input from leading lawyers in the community.

Lousy Leaders?

According to some reports, lawyers make lousy leaders and may drive away others in the workplace. Fortune pointed to the fact that "law firms suffer from notoriously busy revolving doors."

"According to the National Association for Legal Professionals Foundation, in 2010, firms with 251 to 500 attorneys lost 19% of their associates, with the top reason for departure listed vaguely by firms as 'work quality standards were not met,'" the magazine reported.

Garry Riskin, founding partner of a law firm consultancy, says that "most firms are oblivious" to attrition costs. Firm leaders invest heavily in recruiting top talent, but do not address retention. Poor employee management is partly to blame.

Recalling the challenges of integrating new attorneys in government, Delaney said it required a new culture with an emphasis on employee satisfaction and commitment. Law schools and law students can learn about the need for leadership from the experience, he said.

"As in these cases, assessing the status quo and expanding the community of change agents are important first steps that schools can take to work toward a new leadership culture for the legal academy and profession," he said.

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