Leadership forum at Elon Law explores attorney practices in times of change
At an Elon Law forum on October 23, Dean George R. Johnson, Jr. and Professor of Leadership Roland Smith explored how economic conditions are changing the structure of law firms and the role of attorneys in public life.
The forum, titled "Legal Leadership in Times of Uncertainty and Global Complexity," was offered as a Continuing Legal Education course for Elon Law alumni, other Elon University alumni attorneys, and members of the legal community more broadly. The event was scheduled as part of Elon University Homecoming 2009.
Johnson spoke about trends in the legal profession in the context of the global economic crisis.
"We are living in as tumultuous and as uncertain a time as most of us can imagine," Johnson said, "The traditional model that most of us came to understand, graduating from law school, joining a firm, a company, or a government agency where one would spend the lion's share of his or her professional career may soon be altogether a thing of the past."
Detailing several changes in law firm practices, from recruitment and training, to client relations, Johnson said law schools need to do more to respond.
"In this new world, the intellectual skills are essential, but they are not sufficient," Johnson said. "That is why we have introduced leadership training as a requirement for all students. That is why we have communications and presentation skills as part of our program of legal education. That is why we have enlisted scores of local lawyers to serve as mentors to our students."
Smith focused his presentation on leadership skills that attorneys can develop to engage new economic realities in law firm settings and to guide firms through times of structural change.
Among a list of characteristics he identified as essential to effective leadership, Smith emphasized the capacities to build and strengthen relationships, to leverage differences among law firm attorneys, and to communicate effectively.
Citing his 2008 report, "The Changing Nature of Leadership in Law Firms," co-authored with Paul Bennett Marrow, Smith said attorneys with a higher level of self-awareness about their own skills and styles of change are better prepared to positively impact their firms.
"Developing effective leadership skills will require moving from a heroic, individual and independent model in which attorneys achieve greatness through their own efforts, to an interdependent model that emphasizes both individual and collective input and accomplishment," Smith said.