Journal of Leadership and the Law

Leadership Speakers Series - 2012

A Note on the Conference on Law and Leadership

By Pamela Boeka '13
Leadership Fellow and the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Leadership and the Law

The Honorable Sandra Day O'Connor at Elon University School of Law in 2012In April 2012, Elon University School of Law and the Center for Creative Leadership co-hosted an inaugural Conference on Law and Leadership that brought together faculty from various institutions, lawyers, and business executives. Keynote speakers were former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor; David Gergen, Director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School and chair of Elon Law’s Advisory Board; and Dennis Glass, President and CEO of Lincoln Financial Group. This two-day event was divided into four sessions in which panelists presented their thoughts on leadership as it affects legal education and the profession. Three Elon alumni and Leadership Fellows from the class of 2011 -- Collin Cooper, Carrie Johnston, and Richard Munday – helped to organize the conference.   

For a list of panelists and participants, click here.

This conference offered a unique opportunity to interact with prominent leaders, and I had the opportunity to take part in all four sessions. I was interested in exploring two questions. First, since the participants and panelists were potential employers, I wanted to know if they found value in the leadership training being offered at Elon Law. Second, if they did find this training useful, I wondered if they were they willing to consider it as a significant credential during the hiring process.

During the conference’s small group discussions, participants took time to describe the qualities needed in a 21st century lawyer. There was a consensus among attendees that lawyers today are juggling more responsibilities and demands than in prior generations. Legal professionals are required to manage their practice groups, to invest in their communities, and to accumulate innumerable billable hours. They must be willing to be active listeners, constantly adapting to the needs of the client and providing a vision and direction for their organization. The legal profession in this globalized economy requires lawyers to be versatile and I walked away confident that Elon Law’s curriculum is adequately preparing its graduates to meet these emergent demands. 

Participants described the leadership program at Elon Law as invaluable to the 21st century legal profession. They were most impressed with Elon Law's dedication to personal development, coaching, and project management opportunities. Leading law firms offer these opportunities to their first year associates, but the idea that Elon Law graduates have had experience through personal development assessments during their first year, the preceptor program, and direct client engagement in clinics and externships prior to beginning their entry level associate positions, has the potential to be extremely desirable to future employers.

Various deans and academics from prestigious institutions such as Santa Clara University School of Law, University of Cincinnati College of Law, and University of North Carolina School of Law have been leading the way for many years on leadership education in part by drawing from leadership experts such as Dean Barry Posner, author Robert Cullen, Dean Louis Bilionis, and Professor Judith Wegner; and by successfully introducing to the legal curriculum techniques which were traditionally only associated with business degrees, for example, motivation of others, innovation, and cooperation. When leadership doctrine is broken down to its subpartss -- including team building, problem solving, negotiating, and servicing the needs of the client -- one finds that these are among the skills employers deem essential to any successful organization. Understood this way, leadership skills are considered fundamental by employers during the hiring process.

Even though leadership training continues to develop doctrinally, I was encouraged that Elon Law’s model with emphasis on balancing practicality with theory is shepherding the way to the future of American legal education.

For an in-depth report on the Conference on Law and Leadership, click here.