Leadership Education in Law School: You’re Already Providing It

Regardless of whether they think of themselves as leaders, our law students will play a leadership role for the rest of their lives. Certainly many will be leaders in their local legal community, in their law offices, and in various bar associations. But beyond that, all lawyers will be expected to lead outside of their law practices. As a lawyer (and sometimes the only lawyer) in their community group, family, or organization, they will be looked to for leadership.

Just as our students may not recognize themselves as leaders, we may not recognize ourselves as teachers of leadership. But we are. Most of our classes provide excellent opportunities to talk about leadership, even if “leadership” is not in the title. And we model leadership in how we treat our students and other members of the law school, how we contribute to and connect with our communities, and how we help move our law schools forward to address the changing profession.

Recognizing the growing interest in leadership education for lawyers, the AALS Section on Leadership was chartered in November 2017. The section describes its purpose as promoting “scholarship, teaching, and related activities that will help prepare lawyers and law students to serve in leadership roles.” This section is a great place to start for a law professor who wants to learn more about leadership education.

Law professors interested in getting some innovative ideas for integrating leadership-related topics into their classes should consider attending a workshop and roundtable at the University of Tennessee College of Law on April 4-5, 2019. The program is titled Leadership Development for Lawyers. The “workshop” day of the program will give attendees the chance to choose two of four interactive sessions: collaborating with career services; integrating well-being into leadership curricula; assessing leadership development efforts; and effective leadership skill development exercises. Then, the “roundtable” day of the program will provide an opportunity for conference attendees and panelists to share ideas and experiences in leadership education.

The goal of the Tennessee workshop and roundtable is to bring together a large group of legal educators who are working in the area of lawyer leadership education–including professors who don’t (currently) think of themselves as “leadership” teachers.

 

 

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Disruptive Leadership in Legal Education

Nicholas A. Mirkay and Palma Joy Strand*

NOTE: This is an abridged version of the full essay available at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3309981

“The act of leadership is not always comfortable.”[1]

Last spring, the Wall Street Journal unveiled “The Captain Class,” a new feature focusing on “the lessons and strategies of leadership.”  The inaugural column by reporter Sam Walker focused on leadership changes at Boeing over the last decade when its Board of Directors intentionally hired Jim McNerney, a “disruptive leader,” to redirect the company’s trajectory.[2]  “The company had been floundering, and the digital revolution was barging down the gangway.” The landscape for Boeing’s business had transformed, and Boeing needed to adapt.

Disruptive leaders who reorient institutional culture, Walker observed, necessarily “embrace conflict, are ruthlessly direct, and intellectually irreverent.”  Theoretically there is a “gradual way to renovate a proud old institution,” but change rarely unfolds that way.  Rather, “[h]istory shows that it usually comes down to one determined individual—someone who bursts through the door swinging a 7-iron.”[3]

While neither of us regularly swings a 7-iron, to our own surprise we recognized ourselves in the description of disruptive leaders prodding a proud old institution to evolve to meet a changing environment. Two years ago, both of us were full, tenured professors at the Creighton University School of Law.  We sought to position the law school as a leader in responding to the shifting and uncertain landscape that currently characterizes law, the legal profession, and legal education.  Because of institutional resistance to change, however, neither of us remains in our former positions.  One of us is now a tenured Professor of Law at the University of Hawaiʻi Richardson School of Law; the other is still at Creighton and still a tenured Professor of Law, but no longer in the School of Law. 

Legal Education is Ripe for Disruption

Legal education is ripe for disruption because the legal profession and law itself are ripe for disruption.  The crisis in legal education reflects an increasing mismatch between the limited services that law and lawyers provide and vast and acute societal needs for legal services. 

In addition, law has become increasingly attenuated from justice in the sense of contributing to the creation of “right relationships” between and among people.  Because law is inaccessible to most individuals, it is irrelevant to them except as they are subjected to bureaucratic regulation by the government.  Law has become a burden rather than a useful tool for people figuring out how to live together.  A significant proportion of students come into law school seeking to work for justice, yet law school and the legal profession too often send the message that justice is irrelevant.

Nontraditional processes that allow for coordination, collaboration, and conflict engagement and resolution have already overtaken courtroom and law office services.[4] Arbitration, mediation, restorative justice, collaborative governance, LegalZoom, negotiated settlements and regulation, and more were once secondary to litigation and other lawyer-dominated processes.  The balance has now tipped, yet the focus of legal education and the legal profession on lawyers obsessively grooms the traditional tail while ignoring the ever-evolving dog.

As a result, legal education is “at a crossroads…legal educators should be talking about an entirely new business model.”[5]  Law professor William Henderson, who analyzes the legal profession and legal education, concurs:  “Legal education and the legal professions are at an inflection point where traditional models of education and practice no longer fit the shifting needs of the market.”[6] In a recent speech on “The Future of Legal Education,” departing Brooklyn Law Dean Nick Allard described change in the profession as “inevitable” and warned that “clinging to the ‘business as usual’ status quo” is not a viable option.[7]  At the same time, Allard characterized the legal profession and legal academia as “always slow and even resistant to adaptation.”[8]

Lawyers need not be the only providers of legal services.  Doctors today work alongside not only nurses but other health care professionals with diverse training and diverse skills; these teams extend the reach of the health care system.  Similarly, with additional legal professionals, the work of lawyers could reach much further than it does at present.  There has been a recent uptick in the number of persons taking the LSAT[9] and applying to JD programs in law schools.[10] While this trend lulls law schools back into comfortable reliance on the JD, a few additional lawyers will not meet the pressing demand for legal services.

The Opportunities and Pitfalls of Disruptive Leadership

When we arrived at Creighton School of Law, one of us in 2007 and the other in 2011, each of us had been faculty members at other law schools.  We saw Creighton’s small scale and personal relationships in Nebraska as creating an ideal environment for innovation and for nimble responses to the documented lack of legal services in both urban and rural parts of the state.  We were energized by the opportunities presented at a small regional private law school with close ties to the local legal community and the state bar.  We were particularly excited by Creighton’s Jesuit mission of service to others and its expressed commitment to social justice endeavors to form graduates and benefit the community.  A new, yet already nationally-recognized program in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution provided in-house expertise in innovative approaches that complement and expand the effectiveness of traditional law.

Within two years, however, a cohort of fellow faculty members, drawn predominantly from the ranks of those with the most seniority, had negatively branded us “reformers” who were seeking to move students away from “real law.” Overall, our relatively mild exercise of disruptive leadership through leadership in strategic planning and assessment, which envisioned a robust Law School response to fundamental shifts in the legal landscape, was met with a level of blowback that neither of us could have imagined.

In the face of this resistance, which escalated into a personal attack and to which a fledgling University administration capitulated, both of us sought and secured other academic appointments.  The newly-hired dean was “invited” to move out of the administrative suite and into an office on faculty row after an unexpected sabbatical year.  The Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Program was transplanted to a Department of Interdisciplinary Studies in the Graduate School and its expertise and vision quarantined from the JD curriculum and students.

Academic Resistance to Change: Tenure, Academic Freedom, and Administrative Disinterest

Though legal education in the abstract may be ripe for disruption, disruptive leadership in a real-world law school setting is a tough and potentially perilous road.  Legal education is closely tied to the legal profession, and as long as lawyers have a monopoly on law, changes in legal education that respond to broader imperatives will face the challenge of not being “real law” because the entry to the legal profession lies exclusively through the straitjacket of the bar exam and admittance to a state bar.  Further, placement of legal education in universities subjects it to academic constraints that dampen potential change initiatives.

We see three characteristics of academia in general—characteristics that are not limited to legal academia—that contributed to resistance to our disruptive leadership and that are likely to ground resistance to disruptive changes in legal education generally.  The first characteristic is tenure.  Academic tenure, intended to protect and encourage open discourse, has the additional effect of protecting entrenched faculty and perpetuating institutional inertia.  The most seasoned and senior engineers at Boeing have less job security than the least productive tenured faculty member at an average college or university.  Tenure gives faculty members who resist change a powerful and easily wielded weapon:  They can choose to “not go gentle into that good night” but “[r]age, rage against the dying of the light.”[11] 

The second characteristic, related to the first, is academic freedom.  The lofty goal of academic freedom is to ensure the free and fair dissemination of views and ideas. But academic freedom can turn from shield to sword. The claim that academic freedom is being infringed can be used to challenge administrative efforts to monitor academic quality through program assessment.[12]   Even more troubling, “academic freedom has been claimed as an excuse for the most abusive and uncollegial behavior—shouting at colleagues, publicly berating students or staff members, defaming supervisors or other university administrators, shirking professional duties.”[13] 

Third, the imperatives of university administration and governing boards focus on raising funds and maintaining tradition rather than on responding innovatively to shifting economic and social dynamics.  University presidents spend a substantial portion if not a majority of their time fundraising,[14] often appealing to alumni,[15] whose views of the school necessarily look backward rather than forward.[16] University presidents and provosts may also lack essential knowledge regarding “research on innovation and their own role in the process”[17] as well as essential leadership skills, especially those related to change and conflict.  Nonprofit board members are accountable by law for fiduciary duties owed to the institution, but these duties are enforced only rarely by the Attorney General of the state in which the organization is chartered.

Law School Exceptionalism: Monopoly and Gender Dominance

The dynamic between university administrators and law schools is especially likely to be inhospitable to necessary changes.  For decades, law schools were cash cows for universities: Large class sizes and minimal hands-on clinical offerings led to law school revenues that supported other academic programs across campuses.[18]   Because of law school financial contributions, university oversight was relatively deferential, and both central office administrators and law faculty grew accustomed to laissez faire management.  Add in accreditation of law schools by the ABA, which until very recently did not even require meaningful assessment of JD programs, and you have a recipe for habits of non-accountability.  Moreover, university administrators may well be cautious about taking on entrenched and tenured law faculty who as lawyers might be expected to be relatively litigious, as we experienced. 

Two additional characteristics of legal education in particular contribute to militant resistance to disruption.  The first is the ABA’s monopoly on both the practice of law and the accreditation of law schools.  According to Professor Henderson, the legal profession is currently challenged by an environment in which “the cost of traditional legal services is going up, access to legal services is going down, the growth rate of law firms is flat, and lawyers serving ordinary people are struggling to earn a living.”[19]   Lawyers, who themselves are JDs and graduated from law schools configured to meet 20th-century needs, are in control of how legal practice is defined and regulated and of setting barriers to entry.  Lawyers wield “unauthorized practice of law” sanctions as a protection against competition despite the fact that much of the law that non-lawyers seek to practice is law that lawyers find tedious and unprofitable.[20]  

The effects of this monopoly are compounded by a second characteristic of law and legal education: a lack of diversity.  Law and legal education today remain highly gendered: Men and traditionally masculine norms permeate the profession and continue to dominate in law schools even as student enrollment approaches gender parity.[21] The two of us began collaborating as institutional leaders at Creighton as members of the School of Law’s Strategic Planning Committee.  Both of us had been elected by the faculty.  One of us (Nick) was Chair; the other (Palma) was a member who had served on the Committee for a number of years.  It was evident that we enjoyed working together and that we were a strong team.  After one contentious strategic planning meeting, a very senior (white male) member of the faculty made a point of warning Nick (via another colleague) that Palma was “emasculating” him.  A group that has been dominated by a single gender may resist a shift in gender dynamics as well as changes in practice initiated by more diverse decisionmakers.[22]

The Non-Ethics of Non-Disruption

Legal education is ripe for disruption, and disruptive leaders can challenge conceptual mindsets constructively, using technology and data analytics to map changing landscapes and reframe conversations about the future.[23]  In a changing world, adaptation allows organizations to not just hang on but to thrive. 

The casualties of law schools hanging on to the familiar are the students—the very people an educational institution exists to serve.  Is it ethical for law schools to mindlessly continue to train students for a profession that is shifting under everyone’s feet?  Is it ethical for the legal profession to wring its hands about “access to justice” while maintaining its protectionist posture?  Is it ethical for university administrators to pocket law student tuition dollars knowing that the debt those students incur is buying them an education that is unlikely to render them financially secure?  These are the unwelcome questions that disrupters in legal education should be raising – and that law and the legal profession should join in addressing.


* Director of Faculty Research and Professor of Law, University of Hawaiʻi Richardson School of Law, B.S.B.A. Saint Louis University (1989), J.D. University of Missouri (1992), LL.M. Georgetown University Law Center (1996); Professor of Law and Director, 2040 Initiative, Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Program, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, Creighton University, B.S. Stanford University (1978); J.D. Stanford Law School (1984); LL.M. Georgetown University Law Center (2006).  We thank colleagues, past and present, who reviewed and commented on this essay.

[1] Sam Walker, One Leader Sent Boeing Into a Hurricane; Landing It Was the Next Guy’s Job,  The Wall St. J. (2018) https://www.wsj.com/articles/one-leader-sent-boeing-into-a-hurricane-landing-it-was-the-next-guys-job-1524821400.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] See, e.g., Oralandar Brand-Williams, More disputes in Mich. settled through mediation, The Detroit News (2018), https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/wayne-county/2018/03/29/mediation/33406027/; and https://thelawdictionary.org/article/what-percentage-of-lawsuits-settle-before-trial-what-are-some-statistics-on-personal-injury-settlements/.

[5] Huffman, supra note 4.

[6] Bill Henderson, What signal are legal employers sending to legal education?, Legal Evolution (2018), https://www.legalevolution.org/category/legal-education/.

[7] Paul Caron, Allard: The Future of Legal Education, TaxProfBlog (June 20, 2018), http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2018/06/allard-the-future-of-the-legal-profession.html.

[8] Id.

[9] Debra Cassens Weiss, Increase in LSAT test takers seen as evidence of ‘Trump bump,’ ABA Journal (2017),http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/increase_in_lsat_test_takers_is_seen_as_evidence_of_trump_bump.

[10] Karen Sloan, Number of Law School Applicants Surges, Especially Among High Scorers, Law.com (2018), https://www.law.com/2018/07/30/number-of-law-school-applicants-surges-especially-among-high-scorers/.

[11]Dylan Thomas, https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/do-not-go-gentle-good-night.

[12] Timothy Reese Cain, Assessment and Academic Freedom: In Concert, not Conflict (Nov. 2014), http://www.learningoutcomesassessment.org/documents/OP2211-17-14.pdf.

[13] Gary Olson, The Limits of Academic Freedom, Chron.  of Higher Educ. (2009).

[14] Mitchell Wellman, 3 things college presidents spend all their time doing, USA Today (2017), http://college.usatoday.com/2017/01/27/3-things-college-presidents-spend-all-their-time-doing/.

[15] Rick Seltzer, Giving to Colleges Rises by 6.3%, Inside Higher Ed (2018), https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/02/06/personal-giving-pushes-donations-colleges-and-universities-new-level-2017.

[16] Robert M. Diamond, Why Colleges Are So Hard to Change, Inside Higher Ed (2006), https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2006/09/08/why-colleges-are-so-hard-change.

[17] Id.

[18] Megan McArdle, Law School Enrollments are Plummeting. What Happens Next?, Daily Beast (2013), https://www.thedailybeast.com/law-school-enrollments-are-plummeting-what-happens-next.

[19] William D. Henderson, Legal Market Landscape Report (July 2018), https://taxprof.typepad.com/files/henderson.pdf.

[20] See, e.g., Roy Strom, California Bar to Consider Changes to Nonlawyer Ownership Rules, The Am. Law. (2018),https://www.law.com/americanlawyer/2018/07/23/california-bar-to-consider-changes-to-non-lawyer-ownership-rules/.

[21]See, e.g., American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession, A Current Glance at Women in the Law (January 2017) (legal profession), https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/women/a-current-glance-at-women-in-the-law-jan-2018.authcheckdam.pdf; Dara Purvis, Female Law Students, Gendered Self-Evaluation, and the Promise of Positive Psychology, 2012 Mich. St. L. Rev. 1693 (legal education).

[22] See generally, Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, et al., Presumed Incompetent (2012).

[23]Disruptive Leadership: A Recipe for Success, The Wall St. J. (2018), https://deloitte.wsj.com/cio/2018/07/09/disruptive-leadership-a-recipe-for-success/.

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