Leading in Law School (Before It’s Too Late)


Alex Brent, University of Tennessee College of Law Third-Year Student

When I started law school, I thought I was “too cool for school.” I’m embarrassed to write this today, but I thought I had all the friends I needed, and because I heard how competitive law school was, I entered school with a toxic and selfish mindset. My plan was to focus on myself, my grades, and my career—nothing else mattered. Forget leadership, I wasn’t even interested in interacting with my classmates outside of school. Man, do I regret that decision. I missed out on valuable experiences and relationships that were obtainable had I shown initiative. Because of my experience, I decided to write this post to hopefully persuade young law students to lead early and to build relationships with their peers, rather than focusing solely on their individual goals.

The law school experience offers ample opportunity for “formal” leadership roles. Whether it’s through student government bodies, student interest groups, or law journals, students can lead groups formally—official title and all. These groups are vital to the law school community, and I would highly recommend joining at least one. These groups offer an excellent chance to hone your leadership skills, and you do not need to be the “President” or the “Editor-in-Chief” to do so. Every executive member, no matter the title, has an opportunity to lead. For example, the “Treasurer” leads by ensuring the organization is financially stable, and the “Secretary” leads by ensuring the organization’s administrative procedures run smoothly—what is important is that these groups require the devotion of your time, intellect, and passion, which are requirements for any leadership role in any organization.

But what if you are further along in your law school career and leading through a formal organization just isn’t feasible? Professor Joan Heminway wrote an excellent blog post about informal leadership, which I found insightful. Her post encourages lawyers and law students to lead through relationship building, something I have tried to do since I decided to fix my selfish mindset. She writes, “[b]eing a leader involves the cultivation and nurturing of trust relationships that are likely to be challenged in major and minor ways. The integrity of those trust relationships through the inevitable tribulations is a mark of sustained leadership.” I agree with Professor Heminway—a leader with a prestigious title is no leader at all if he or she lacks the ability to form relationships that withstand adversity.

I think this concept fits well with leadership in the law school setting. Regardless of what anyone tells you, law school is full of trials and tribulations, and you constantly compete with your peers. This competitive atmosphere can (and has) destroyed many relationships and friendships. Our goal should be to lead our peers through that competitive environment by forming trusting relationships that maintain their integrity despite the curved grading system or the highly competitive job market.

To me, there is no better way to lead than by placing people and relationships over individual success. While this is extremely difficult to do, others will notice, and (hopefully) they will follow.





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