How Law Schools Are Becoming the New Business School for Future Leaders

There’s a revolution going on right now at top law schools across the country. They are starting to teach leadership – and trust me, it is no easy task. Some – however – are succeeding beyond their wildest dreams.

Law students are not used to learning how to develop leadership skills, and certainly professors are not used to teaching it. Left-wing, analytical, hyper-competitive law students need a different mindset to really embrace the soft and squishy concepts like empathy and teamwork. In fact, it requires a whole new way of educating. century-old Ivy League law schools filled with Socratic professors like fictional and high Hardcore Professor Kingsfield in the cinema paper Chase, just won’t be enough anymore. A new paradigm is needed. A fundamentally new approach is needed.

But teaching old dogs new tricks isn’t easy. That’s why most come up short or avoid the challenge altogether.

As the Stanford Law School website notes, “It is ironic that the businesses most responsible for building America’s leaders have focused so little on that role. The legal profession attracts a large number of individuals who want to become leaders.” Has ambition and analytical ability, but often fails to develop the other qualities needed for effectiveness.”

Fortunately, some law schools aren’t shying away from reinventing themselves. A handful of administrators are at the fore, including Heather Gerken and former assistant dean Anastasia Boyko at Yale Law School, Jennifer Leonard at the University of Pennsylvania, and Scott Westphal at Harvard Law School.

In true Schumpeterian fashion they are rethinking and reforming legal education, focusing on self-awareness, empathy, resilience and vulnerability. This “soft skills“Learning for success in today’s unforgiving and unpredictable world is difficult, but essential to success, regardless of what career law school graduates eventually do.

Without resilience, there is little chance that a leader can back down from inevitable setbacks and setbacks. Without empathy, leaders cannot step into the shoes of various stakeholders to better understand what they are thinking and thereby build consensus around important strategic initiatives. Without it self-awareness and vulnerability, they run the risk of misinterpreting how others see them and being oblivious to their own belongings and blind spots. And without integrity, nothing else really matters to leaders, especially those who want to ensure a positive legacy.

But it begs the question – how do you teach these soft skills? I was lucky enough to get an inside look, for the first time, as a visiting lecturer — at Yale Law School — for two semesters. The creator of the leadership program was the then Assistant Dean Anastasia Boyko who created a uniquely fertile environment for students to sharpen their skills. Backed by his boss, Dean Heather Gerken, Boyko introduced a holistic, mutually sound approach to leadership development that included curricular, programmatic and mentorship components.

How did it work? In the classroom, our goal was to inspire Yale law students to address their development needs, blind spots, and fears. To accomplish this there was a need to create a “safe space” in which participants could share stories – without fear of ridicule or judgement – ​​and provide advice and best practices to peers. We invited several skilled YLS alumni to share their development journey, including their biggest obstacles (and mistakes) along the way.

The goal, of course, wasn’t to embarrass the guest speakers, it was to set the right tone. If these CEOs, veterans, entertainment lawyers and entrepreneurs were willing to be vulnerable, it allowed students to do so. In a sense, the class became like a mixed group therapy session with a discussion of the Harvard Business School case. The conversation was practical and focused on real business results. but it also allowed students Talk openly about your fears and concerns and think of new ways to overcome deep-seated personal challenges, Along the way, participants learned more about themselves, their classmates, and their authentic leadership styles.

Gerken and Boyko are leaders in the traditionally chaotic industry – legal education. As other law schools testify to Yale’s success, I anticipate this trend will accelerate. It wouldn’t surprise me if some elite law schools soon surpass the top business schools as the best places for high-potential talent to step out of their comfort zones and sharpen soft skills and leadership potential. The Law School already places an emphasis on problem solving and analyzing complex challenges, a key competency for any leader in today’s unforgiving and unpredictable business world. Soft skills training is the icing on the cake.

A quick personal story and disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, but when I was a kid growing up in Kentucky my father would constantly tell me to go to law school. He would say, “You can’t go wrong with a law degree. You can anything with a law degree.” As a typically rebellious and troubled teenager I smiled back, “Are you crazy? Law school narrows the mind by making it sharp – by focusing on legal code and esoteric technical skills. I want to do something more creative. I want to be a leader.”

As it turns out, Bob Dylan is the one who got it right because “The Times They’re A-Changein’.”

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