Elon Law’s Leadership Program selected for national award

The Leadership Program at Elon University School of Law has been named a 2013 recipient of the American Bar Association’s E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award. 


The annual award by the ABA Standing Committee on Professionalism honors excellence and innovation in professionalism programs by law schools, bar associations, professionalism commissions and other law-related organizations.

“This is an especially high honor and a great recognition for our leadership program and for the law school,” said George R. Johnson, Jr., dean and professor of law. “Special commendations go to Faith Rivers James, professor of law and director of leadership programs at the law school, and to the many members of the faculty who have worked to develop and strengthen this signature program at Elon.”

The Leadership Program has been a part of the Elon Law curriculum since the school enrolled its inaugural class in 2006. The program is designed to prepare civic-minded lawyers to assume leadership roles in law firms, the legal profession and in their communities.

“Leadership is a precious and essential commodity within the bar and society in these challenging times, and Elon is to be commended for its innovative, impressive, and committed approach to cultivating and encouraging leadership qualities among its students,” said Frederic S. Ury, Chair of the ABA’s Standing Committee on Professionalism. “In honoring your program with the leading national award recognizing excellence in legal professionalism programming, the Committee has found the Elon Leadership Program to be worthy of emulation by law schools across the nation.”

The Gambrell Awards were established in 1991 and are named for E. Smythe Gambrell, ABA and American Bar Foundation president from 1955 to 1956. Gambrell founded the Legal Aid Society in Atlanta, where he practiced law from 1922 until his death in 1986. Since 1991, the ABA has selected one to three entities in the United States each year as a recipient of the Gambrell Award. The 2013 recipients will be presented with the award at the ABA’s annual meeting in San Francisco, CA in August.  Details about the Gambrell Awards are available here.

“Elon Law has pioneered a unique program that develops legal expertise, leadership skills and professional proficiencies,” said Rivers James. “The fundamental precept of the program is to train students in problem solving. Empowered with leadership development and skills training at the outset of their professional school training, Elon Law students develop lawyering skills and emotional intelligence capacities that support their professional development later in their careers. We take pride in the accomplishment of attaining national recognition for this important program at Elon.”

Additional Information about Elon Law’s Leadership Program:

All first-year Elon Law students participate in a course titled “Lawyering, Leadership and Professionalism.” Students engage in self-assessment exercises, work in small groups on case studies, and hear from a variety of distinguished lawyer-leaders about their careers and lessons learned. Based on these and other experiences students create professional development plans to track their progress on individual goals and objectives during and after law school.

“Having first-year law students evaluate themselves against established predictors of lawyering success enables them to develop a plan of action for personal and professional development early on in law school,” said Roland Smith, professor of leadership at Elon Law and senior faculty member at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL). In the course, students participate in skill development workshops at CCL, ranked by the Financial Times as one of the world’s top-ten providers of executive education.

John Alexander, distinguished leadership coach in residence at Elon Law and former President of the Center for Creative Leadership, said that the level of individual leadership training and personal planning that first-year law students experience was uncommon.

“By examining their personal values and reflecting on their strengths and developmental needs – including interpersonal skills such as communication and influencing others – all law students at Elon create Individual Development Plans that can become powerful roadmaps for their success, both in law school and beyond. Each first-year student then  reviews his or her plan in a private one-on-one coaching session with a faculty member, accomplished attorney or external executive coach. These conversations often become the impetus for action steps to hone students’ skills and improve performance,” Alexander said.

In their second year, students put principles into practice, serving actual clients through a “Public Law and Leadership” course. Under the guidance of law professors, students assist nonprofit organizations and government agencies in resolving real legal issues. Each “Public Law and Leadership” team operates as a model law firm, conducting interviews and doing legal research to develop and present recommendations to their clients. Each team is observed by an executive coach and receives feedback on group dynamics and leadership issues.

“Second-year students, working directly with nonprofits as clients, begin to see how their legal skill and knowledge can propel them to leadership roles in the civic life of the communities where they will practice law,” said Faith Rivers James, professor of law and director of leadership programs at Elon Law.

In their third year, students have the opportunity to apply legal knowledge and leadership skills to capstone projects that benefit the profession, the community or the wider society. Capstone projects have included a survey on the state of mentoring in the legal community of Wake County, NC, research on effective implementation of refugee family reunification policies, and creation of an interactive web site to educate and involve citizens in the crafting of legislation by the North Carolina General Assembly. 

An additional component of the Leadership Program at Elon Law is the Preceptor Program. At the beginning of their first year, Elon Law students are paired with practicing attorneys who serve as mentors through the school’s Preceptor Program, giving students direct encounters with and first-hand insights about business, ethical and professional dimensions of the law. Preceptors work primarily with first-year students, but also regularly interact with second- and third-year students, as well as alumni. Students often accompany preceptors as they research cases, take depositions, interview clients, hold mediation sessions and conduct trials.

“Preceptors treat students as members of the profession from the moment they enter law school, binding our program of legal education to the practicing bar in a substantive and meaningful way,” said Margaret Robison Kantlehner, associate professor of law, who served as director of the Preceptor Program from 2007 to 2012.

In 2012, The National Jurist noted the Preceptor Program in its selection of Elon Law as one of “America’s 20 most innovative law schools.”

Members of the Elon Law faculty who have contributed to the development of the Leadership Program at Elon Law include John Alexander, Don Dancer, Leary Davis, Catherine Dunham, Jim Exum, John Flynn, Steve Friedland, Andy Haile, Faith Rivers James, George Johnson, Margaret Kantlehner, David Levine, Bonnie McAlister, Tom Noble, Robert Parrish, Patricia Perkins and Roland Smith. Johnson and Rivers James expressed appreciation to members of the Elon University Law School Advisory Board who have supported and lectured in Leadership Program courses, including David Gergen, chair of the board and former adviser to four U.S. Presidents, former chief justices of the North Carolina Supreme Court Rhoda Billings, Jim Exum and Henry Frye, former North Carolina governors Jim Hunt and the late James Holshouser, and attorneys Ellen Gregg, Carole Bruce and Jonathan Wall. 

In addition to academic courses and the Preceptor Program, the Leadership Program includes a Leadership Fellows program for select students, the Joseph M. Bryan Distinguished Leadership Lecture Series, and the online Journal of Leadership and the Law. More information about the Leadership Program at Elon Law is available at: law.elon.edu/leadership.