Leading as Law Students

Evan S. Rothey
Evan S. Rothey
J.D. Candidate, 2019 | The University of Tennessee College of Law

Leading as Lawyers Law Students

Law student, are you a leader?

Was your gut reaction a resounding “Yes”? Or did you tell yourself:
“I’ll be a leader when I become a lawyer.”
“I’ll be a leader when I make partner.”
“I’ll be a leader when . . .”

Often, our concept of leadership is restrained to positions of authority. But when leadership is only the purview of those “up the ladder,” it can be tempting to wait until we have a title to start leading. This is especially true for law students who are just entering the legal profession. Leadership is not a calling reserved for the partners and professors, the lead prosecutors and judges. It is a calling for law students.

Why? Because positional leadership is a poor substitute for earned leadership – the influence given to individuals that other people want to follow. The “1L” in their first month of classes can step into “leading as a lawyer” right now. How? Here are a few suggestions:

Get Action
“Get action. Do things; be sane; don’t fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action.” -Theodore Roosevelt

There is something to be said for momentum. When I worked construction in high school, I learned quickly that a wheelbarrow is much easier to maneuver when it’s in motion. The same is true for leadership.

By “getting action,” law students not only build momentum, but set the pace for their peers. Pacesetting is the bread and butter of earned leadership. While positional leaders lead from the top, earned leaders stand at the front lines, leading the charge. Law students have the opportunity to set the pace:
• In service – serving those in need, serving your peers, serving your professors. Be a go-giver, as well as a go-getter.
• In tone – the common law school trope is that law school is cut-throat and hostile, but that doesn’t have to be true. Choose to treat your peers with civility and collegiality and create the culture in your law school and profession.
• In mentorship – At risk of being crudely simplistic, you only need to be a half-step ahead to be a mentor. Find an opportunity to be a mentor – coach a collegiate or high school mock trial team, become a big brother or a big sister, lead the children’s ministry in your faith community, form a study group from diverse backgrounds with diverse strengths, etc. If you wait until you have everything together professionally, you will never get the chance to mentor.

The truth is that, as law students, we will likely never have as much discretionary time as we do now. That makes it the perfect time to get action, set the pace, and build leadership momentum.

How will you “get action” as a law student?

Beat the Drum
“What’s right and good doesn’t come naturally. You have to stand up and fight for it – as if the cause depends on you, because it does.” -Bill Moyers

The legal world is full of worthy causes – pro bono, mental health in the legal profession, promoting a diverse legal community, etc. These causes don’t just need law firm equity partners sitting on the board of directors of a nonprofit organization. They need champions – people who will pick up the banner for an issue and invite others to join in. Rally your law school colleagues and your future colleagues of the bar to action, whether you formally represent an organization or cause or not.

What cause will you champion as a law student?

Begin with the End in Mind
“More is caught than taught . . . . We must forever seek out great leaders, observe how they operate, and then apply what we observe to our own operational styles.” -Marcus Brotherton

Leaders are not formed in a vacuum but forged through relationships with others. That’s why so many great leaders learned from leaders that went before them. Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land after spending years learning from Moses. Aaron Rodgers sat behind Brett Favre for years. Ludwig van Beethoven was tutored in composition by Joseph Haydn. Chief Justice Roberts clerked for Justice Rehnquist.

As we consider the type of lawyer-leaders we hope to grow into, it is important for us to seek out lawyers we would like to emulate. Whether you look at your local bar association or to the pages of history, our profession is full of women and men who are exemplar lawyer-leaders. Who will you emulate as you start your journey as a lawyer-leader?

Law student, your chosen profession is calling you to be a leader right now. Will you answer that call?

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