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Justice, ethics and professionalism examined in first-year leadership course

The January 2012 Lawyering, Leadership and Professionalism course at Elon Law encouraged first-year students to explore practical and theoretical aspects of leadership and professionalism.

Brenna Ragghianti, member of the Class of 2014 at Elon Law

Examining topics that ranged from civic responsibility to the civil rights movement to negotiation and interviewing skills, students undertook a multifaceted approach to understanding leadership and the role of lawyer-leaders.

“We looked at historical leaders and their impact on our world today,” first-year law student Brenna Ragghianti said. “The theme of lawyer-leader expanded the traditional notion of the role of a lawyer into someone who needs greater skills in order to meet the needs of clients in our global economy.”

Dr. Roland Smith, the course’s lead-professor, utilized guest speakers, small group activities and a site visit to the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) to encourage student consideration of ethics, justice, professionalism and community leadership.

While visiting CCL, ranked a top ten provided of executive education by the Financial Times for ten consecutive years, students participated in small group exercises designed to encourage thought about personal leadership styles and group dynamics. One exercise, called “Color Blind,” required blindfolded students to identify the color and shape of puzzle pieces through teamwork in order to complete a puzzle as a group.

First-year law student Marquis Barnett said he considered the “Color Blind” exercise one of the most influential of the course.

“It gave us the opportunity to learn about ourselves and the type of leader we are when we are faced with adversity,” Barnett said.

Marquis Barnett, member of the Class of 2014 at Elon Law

First-year law student Caitlin Cutchin also valued the exercise.

“It demonstrated to us that practicing law is about far more than just your own personal abilities,” Cutchin said. “Whether we are interacting with clients or influencing our colleagues, we are utilizing leadership skills.”

Students were encouraged to reflect on personal and career objectives in the course through creation of Individual Development Plans (IDPs). IDPs enable students to map out their leadership strengths and weaknesses and apply them to short- and long-term goals for law school and their careers.

“By using the IDP as a tool, I really began thinking seriously about the impact I want to have at Elon Law and in my future career and the steps I will need to take to accomplish those goals,” Ragghianti said. “Leadership is not just about having vision; it is just as much about finding people who share that vision and want to help realize it.”

Each student will meet with a faculty coach over the spring semester to discuss and refine their IDP and to refine professional development objectives and long term career goals.

A panel of former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justices spoke in the course about their careers and roles as leaders within the legal community and the state at large. Former Chief Justices Rhoda Bryan Billings, Henry E. Frye and James G. Exum, Jr. spoke and answered questions about their opinions of “Justice and the Role of Lawyers.” In addition to discussing the concept of justice, panelists described their definitions of ethical leadership and the ethical standards required in the legal profession. Click here for a report on a similar presentation in 2011 by the Chief Justices and members of Elon Law’s advisory board.

Caitlin Cutchin, member of the Class of 2014 at Elon Law

University of St. Thomas Law School professor Hank Shea led a discussion on ethical leadership and discussed “derailers,” or things that can interfere with an attorney’s ability to remain ethical throughout their careers.

“He illustrated that complacency can be just as dangerous as intentional wrong doing when it comes to the law,” Ragghianti said of Shea’s lecture.

In addition to Professor Shea, guest speaker and former inmate Stephen Gunther spoke, for the first time, about his experiences in prison after being found guilty of a white collar crime, and the ethical dilemmas and choices he faced along the way.

Other activities in the class included a discussion about the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Hirabayashi v. United States, regarding the legality of curfews imposed on Japanese Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor, and a lecture by law school dean George R. Johnson, Jr. about the lawyers and legal history that preceded Brown v Board of Education, the landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954 that declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional. Johnson discussed the role of lawyers as leaders, noting that regardless of the field of law that students pursue, they will have to be leaders and seek justice.

The course is part of Elon Law's comprehensive Leadership Program.

By Courtney Roller, L’13

Philip Craft,
2/16/2012 11:12 AM