What is the main lesson of 2020? What is my 2021 resolution? I’ve thought a lot about those questions over the past weeks and months, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer to both questions is better leadership.
The public health pandemic, the pandemic of racism and the efforts by some to undermine democracy were primal screams for leaders at all levels who would face those issues with strength, integrity and courage. We saw some step up, but we saw far too many fall short.
I thought back to the day I decided to go to law school. It was a warm spring day. May 4, 1970. I was a freshman at Oberlin College. A few days earlier, President Richard Nixon had expanded the Vietnam War by invading Cambodia. Antiwar college protests erupted throughout the country.
About 1 p.m. in the afternoon, the news hit us in the gut as we huddled around TVs and radios on our sheltered college campus. In just 12 seconds, the Ohio National Guard fired over 60 shots at student protesters at nearby Kent State University. Nine students were wounded, one of them paralyzed for life; and four students — Allison Krause, Jeff Miller, Sandra Scheuer, and Bill Schroeder — were killed.
Bill Schroeder was an ROTC student watching the protest; he was shot in the back. Sandy Scheuer was walking to class. I didn’t know them, but I’ve never forgotten their names.
I’ve felt a sense of urgency ever since that day. That urgency is to make a deeper impact upon the world because the greatest lie you can tell someone is that there is plenty of time.
What is our role as a law school to further the sense of purpose that lingers inside each of us? I maintain it is to ensure that we educate and train not only great lawyers, but also great leaders. An investment in leadership development is an investment in making a deeper impact upon the world.
So many of our students came to law school to learn law and live justice — to advocate for fixing what’s broken and to forcefully call out injustice and decry inequality. Throughout American history, we have seen that the law can be a source of oppression or a force for justice.
It is up to us to ensure that the power of the law is used for justice, and with that comes an obligation to teach leadership. Those of us who are educators have been given a gift. We have been given an opportunity to be a part of the solution.
Whenever I talk to employers, they all say the same thing. While legal knowledge and skills are important, 21st century lawyers must have the so-called soft skills of self-motivation, self-discipline, self-awareness, adaptability and versatility and effective communication and collaboration. That’s another way of saying that 21st century lawyers must have leadership skills.
As a law school dean, every day I see opportunities to train and educate a future generation of leaders who value civility, diversity, inclusion and respect. When I watch our students deliver their arguments in Moot Court and Mock Trial, I am reminded that the best oral advocates are able to take a position with which they personally disagree. A great legal education requires our students to step outside of the constraints of their own immediate, biased filter bubbles.
We teach that all lawyers must understand not only their clients’ positions and interests, but also the complex motivations and positions of all parties. We want our students to understand that reconciling differences is as important as winning cases.
We are striving to produce highly competent, deeply compassionate lawyers who see the practice of law as a calling to serve others, and we are committed to graduating students who are successful professionals, open-minded leaders, change makers and advocates of justice. We provide training and practice in leadership strategies and skills that better prepare students to effectively manage the people and organizations they will lead. Core leadership skills transcend occupational lines, and these skills can be learned through study and practice.
Our P. Kelly Tompkins Leadership and Law Program at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University seeks to educate students not only to be great lawyers, but also to be great leaders. We provide training and practice in leadership strategies and skills that better prepare students to effectively manage the people and organizations they will lead. Core leadership skills transcend occupational lines, and these skills can be learned through study and practice.
When my son graduated from college, my wife, Peggy, and I asked him what he wanted to do with his life. He said something that would never have occurred to me to say to my parents. He answered, “What I want to do hasn’t been invented yet.” It’s a new way of looking at the future.
We must prepare our students to make a difference in the world as citizens and leaders in a fast-changing environment. Leaders of the future need to have the skills to lead, counsel and manage in a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, and to use law as a vehicle for social, organizational and business change. Change happens at the speed of leadership.
Lee Fisher is dean of Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University. He is the former Ohio attorney general, lieutenant governor, director of the Ohio Department of Development, chair of the Ohio Third Frontier Commission, president and CEO of the Center for Families and Children, president and CEO of CEOs for Cities, state representative and state senator.