University of Tennessee and AALS Leadership Section Co-Host Roundtable: Leadership Development for Lawyers: Increasing Our Impact


Professor Doug Blaze
Dean Emeritus, Art Stolnitz and Elvin E. Overton Distinguished Professor of Law, and Director of the Institute for Professional Leadership

In April, the Institute for Professional Leadership at the University of Tennessee hosted a major conference on leadership education, co-sponsored by the AALS Section on Leadership and the Tennessee Journal of Law and Policy. The two-day roundtable, Leadership Development for Lawyers: Increasing Our Impact, attracted well over a hundred participants including legal educators from twenty-four law schools, judges, lawyers, and law students. Designed to promote robust discussion and exchange of ideas, the success of the event reflected over a year of hard work by the planning committee consisting of Deborah Rhode, Lou Bilionis, Leah Jackson Teague, David Gibbs, Buck Lewis, Don Polden, and Doug Blaze. A remarkable team of law students led by Charlotte Houser, the 2019 Hardwick-Woods fellow in the leadership institute, assisted the planning team by ensuring that the entire event ran smoothly.

The opening afternoon featured four workshops designed to enhance existing leadership courses and programs and to assist schools newly interested in leadership development efforts. Topics included A Whole Building Approach to Leadership Development, Integrating Well-Being into Leadership curricula, Designing Effective Leadership Skill Development Exercises, and Getting a Leadership Course Started.

The workshops were followed by a welcome dinner highlighted by a keynote address from ABA President Bob Carlson. President Carlson emphasized that lawyers need to provide leadership now more than ever. He noted, “our institutions are strong, but they are not invincible. They require the support and protection of each and every one of us to endure.”

Keynote remarks by Cheri Beasley, Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court and Tennessee Law alumna, kicked off the second day of the conference. Chief Justice Beasley applauded the work of all the attendees to develop future leaders while challenging everyone to rethink what we mean by diversity and inclusion. She also emphasized that our pipeline efforts need to begin far earlier than they do now.

Following Chief Justice Beasley’s remarks, the morning session provided insights from three perspectives: legal educators, the profession, and law students. The first-panel discussion, moderated by Leah Teague, provided an overview of existing law school leadership development efforts. Professor Susan Sturm (Columbia), Dean Gordon Smith (BYU), and Dean Garry Jenkins (Minnesota) described their innovative work and shared their thoughts about what had proved most effective.

Turning from leadership development in law schools to the profession, Don Polden assembled an impressive panel to talk about what the profession is, or should be doing, to develop effective lawyer leaders. Buck Lewis and David Gibbs shared their thoughts based on leadership work in both law schools and the profession. Lorene Schaefer, a former General Counsel of GE Transportation, shared her insights from the in-house perspective. The final panelist was Professor Tony Thompson (NYU), author of the recently published book – Dangerous Leaders: How & Why Lawyers Must Be Taught to Lead – who talked about the five components of leadership focusing particularly on race and inequality. A panel of law students and recent graduates from Tennessee, Santa Clara, and Cincinnati law schools, moderated by Chris Davis (Tennessee ’19), concluded the morning by presenting very thoughtful comments on what the students found to have been the most effective in enhancing their leadership development.

An underlying theme that developed during the conference was how to address equity and inclusion issues in leadership training. The final panel further developed the importance of these issues. Moderated by Paula Schaefer (Tennessee), the impressive panel included LSAC President Kellye Testy, Professor Jane Aiken (Georgetown and incoming dean at Wake Forest), Judge Deborah Stevens (Knox County, TN), Dean Mark Alexander (Villanova), and Veta Richardson (CEO of Association of Corporate Counsel). The insightful comments from the panelists, coupled with the robust discussion following, was one of the conference highlights.

Deborah Rhode, the moving force behind the section and our first chair, was joined by Doug Blaze to lead the all the participants in a discussion about “where do we go from here.” Deborah spoke eloquently about the impact, or legacy, of our collective effort to develop lawyer leaders capable of providing need leadership in these turbulent times. The ensuing discussion identified at least three other important themes. First, the group agreed that a focus on experiential leadership skills development is critical. Second, and building on an earlier workshop, our work needs to play a key role in addressing the well-being challenges faced by students and lawyers. Third, the discussion underscored the need to develop effective assessment tools to evaluate the efficacy of all of our work in an effort to increase our impact.
Finally, everyone agreed that these conversations need to continue. The good news is that two future conferences are already scheduled – Hofstra in November and Baylor next spring – to ensure that happens. In addition, articles by a number of presenters will be forthcoming later this year in an issue of the Tennessee Journal of Law and policy. For those that were unable to attend, conference materials remain available at:

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