Journal of Leadership and the Law

Studies in Leadership

Elon Law student Shoshanna SilverbergIntroduction to Lawyers as Peacemakers by J. Kim Wright

By Shoshanna Silverberg L'15

This past summer I externed for www.cuttingedgelaw.com.  One of the things that made this opportunity so dynamic was who I worked for: J. Kim Wright.  She is a lawyer, legal reformer, legal educator, entrepreneur, and an acclaimed author.  For Wright, leadership hinges on the lawyers’ and law students’ ability to envision a collective future.  For her, successful leadership lies in the ability to see new possibilities to evolve as individuals and as communities. Legal counsel involves demonstrating this ability and sharing the wisdom gained.  The question of where that wisdom comes from, how much wisdom is gained and how much is a result of the education one receives through the experience of daily life – is an implicit challenge in the undertaking of leadership. 

Below is an excerpt from Wright’s book, Lawyers as Peacemeakers: Practicing Holistic, Problem-Solving Law.   The section presented is from the beginning of her chapter on law and leadership, which opens with a call to lawyers, and by extension law students. She asks students to step up and into our true selves as leaders.  Its inclusion in this journal is intended to provoke critical thought concerning the role of lawyers in the new millennium, and how we might re-focus our study of law to encompass this concept of leadership as we move forward into the profession.

Wright first quotes Ben W. Heineman, Jr. from his article “Lawyers as Leaders,” published in the Yale Law Journal, Pocket Part 116: 266, 2007.  In this article he writes:

. . . graduates of law schools should aspire not just to be wise counselors but wise leaders; not just to dispense “practical wisdom” but to be “practical visionaries”; not just to have positions where they advise, but where they decide. Put another way, I wish to redefine (or at least to reemphasize) the concept of “lawyer” to include “lawyer as leader.” The profession and the law schools should more candidly recognize the importance of leadership and should more directly prepare and inspire young lawyers to seek roles of ultimate responsibility and accountability than they do today.

Why do I advance this thesis? First, our society is suffering from a leadership deficit in public, private, and nonprofit spheres. The core competencies of law are as good a foundation for broad leadership as other training. Second, the legal profession, by many accounts, is suffering from a crisis of morale, from a disconnect between personal values and professional life. Providing leadership can affirm—and test—our vision and core values. Third, other professional schools—business and public policy—have as their explicit mission the training of leaders for the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. The graduates of our law schools are at least as talented as those who enter other professional and graduate schools. And law schools should have a similar vision to enhance the careers of their outstanding students, thus serving society and addressing the values crisis that affects portions of the profession.

Wright piggybacks Heineman’s comments with an excerpt from management expert Peter Senge in Synchronicity, by Joseph Jaworski:            

. . . In its essence, leadership is about learning how to shape the future. Leadership exists when people are no longer victims of circumstances but participate in creating new circumstances...

The new leadership must be grounded in fundamentally new understandings of how the world works. The sixteenth-century Newtonian mechanical view of the universe, which still guides our thinking, has become increasingly dysfunctional to these times of interdependence and change. The critical shifts required to guarantee a healthy world for our children and our children's children will not be achieved by doing more of the same. “The world we have created is a product of our way of thinking,” said Einstein. Nothing will change in the future without fundamentally new ways of thinking. This is the real work of leadership.

Below is a link to Lawyers as Peacemakers: Practicing Holistic, Problem-Solving Law.  Take a look, and if you have opinions as to what this type of new thinking and perception of possibilities means as a basis for discussing leadership, we welcome them.  Please contact us with your comments at ELjournal@elon.edu.

If you are interested in learning more about J. Kim Wright's work or in reading Lawyers As Peacemakers (ISBN-13: 978-1604428629), click on the links below.  

http://www.abajournal.com/legalrebels/article/j._kim_wright_collaborator/

http://apps.americanbar.org/abastore/index.cfm?pid=1620434&section=main&fm=Product.AddToCart