Wednesday, October 13, 2021
Kenneth Townsend (Wake Forest), Preconditions of Leadership in Law, 56 Wake Forest L. Rev. __ (2021):
While lawyers have long been over-represented in various leadership contexts, law schools and legal employers have not always been concerned with teaching and cultivating leadership. This historic reluctance is rooted in many things, including an overconfidence that the study and practice of law somehow automatically prepared one for leadership; a fear that legal education and practice would be compromised by a focus on “soft skills” associated with leadership studies; a belief that leadership capacities are established by the time students arrive at law school; and concerns that a more holistic approach would lead law schools into the fraught business of moral formation.
Over the last decade or so, this skepticism towards leadership training has started to subside, giving way to new scholarship, programs, and courses focused on leadership in the law. The increased interest in leadership in the law is good news for those interested in legal institutions addressing leadership more intentionally, but even earnest efforts to inculcate leadership skills can fall flat if they do not consider broader questions associated with the purpose of law and legal work, the agency of individual lawyers to effect change, and the communities that shape and support lawyers. If not integrated into the culture of legal institutions and into the identity of law students and lawyers, leadership training risks being seen as a non-essential luxury of legal education, a marketing gimmick, or a regulatory box-ticking exercise rather than fundamental to good lawyering.
This article identifies three preconditions of leadership—purpose, agency, and community—and outlines some of the ways that legal education and practice frequently frustrate their realization. The article then proposes possible reforms designed to aid lawyers in developing healthier habits and attitudes regarding their work.