Baylor Lawyers: Ready to Practice, Prepared to Lead

May 25, 2018

WACO, Texas -

Lawyers make up less than one-half of one percent of the population, yet no other profession accounts for more leaders throughout society. Lawyers have led our country at critical junctures since its inception. Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Of the 55 delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, 35 were lawyers. Abraham Lincoln led the Union to victory in the Civil War. Twenty-five of the 45 U.S. presidents have been lawyers.

Serving in positions that require legal training, as well as serving in a wide array of other leadership roles, lawyers influence society. Lawyers have contributed to pivotal historical events including the founding of our nation, the progressive era, the New Deal, the civil rights revolution, and more. As heads of nations, universities, foundations, companies, legislative committees, and public offices, lawyers have shaped our society and culture. Today, lawyers advocate for important causes, counsel businesses, and serve non-profits. It is the leadership of lawyers who advance these causes and enhance these enterprises. Through legal education, lawyers learn problem solving, strategic planning, persuasion, and ultimately how to command the room; all foundational leadership skills.

"Every aspect of what lawyers are called upon to do in the representation of their clients is practiced leadership," said Leah Jackson Teague, JD '85, associate dean of Baylor Law. "By advising, advocating and influencing others, lawyers can address an identified need and, hopefully, accomplish a greater good. Utilizing lawyers' skills, talents and resources can have a tremendous impact on society."

With the ever-changing nature of our public square and private sector, there is an increasing need for lawyers who are not only prepared to practice, but also to lead. Legal education, in the midst of the growing "access to justice" gap, has received criticism for both its failure to produce lawyers who are ready to practice and for providing a seemingly narrowed and expensive education aimed to meet the specialized needs of a shrinking number of clientele able and willing to pay for legal services. There is a need for innovative and cost-effective solutions to provide legal services, advice, and counsel for everyday problems faced by the majority of citizens.

The challenges facing the legal profession are significant, and law schools need to play a part in problem solving. Baylor Law is committed to seeking solutions for the betterment of the profession.

The Need for Leadership

In the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that the special training of lawyers as both problem solvers and advocates, in addition to the role of lawyers as the keepers of the rule of law, ensured them a "separate station in society" and a duty to protect our democracy. However, over the last century, the number of lawyers serving in prominent leadership roles has declined. In the mid-19th century, nearly 80 percent of U.S. Congressional representatives were lawyers. By the 1960s, lawyers represented less than 60 percent of Congress. Today, lawyers occupy only 40 percent of Congressional seats.

Throughout the history of our nation, the members of our citizenry have looked to the ranks of our profession for leadership and guidance."
–The Texas Lawyer's Creed

The closing paragraph of The Texas Lawyer's Creed, adopted by The Supreme Court of Texas and the Court of Criminal Appeals in November 1989, states: "Throughout the history of our nation, the members of our citizenry have looked to the ranks of our profession for leadership and guidance. Let us now as a profession each rededicate ourselves to practice law so we can restore public confidence in our profession, faithfully serve our clients, and fulfill our responsibility to the legal system."

While law schools have traditionally focused on preparing future lawyers for their role as technical experts in the law, the role of lawyers has traditionally been broader. Clients seek their lawyers' advice and counsel. Organizations and communities look to lawyers for direction and effective leadership. Without attention to lawyers' roles as legal experts, wise counselors, and leaders, the legal profession is in danger of losing its status that has helped guide our country for over 240 years.

Law schools need to tout our ability to train and develop tomorrow's leaders. Baylor Law is leading the way in this effort.

GOAL: Leadership Development

Senator Kirk Watson, BA '80, JD '81, of District 14 of the Texas Senate, delivers a keynote address on "The Importance of Community Involvement: How a Lawyer Can Lead" at the 2017 LEAD Counsel Making a Difference Conference."

The missing piece of the puzzle, where bright and talented law students train to more effectively engage and influence, is leadership development. Law schools can fill that gap by being more intentional about developing lawyers who are aware of their role in society, preparing them to solve societal problems while also meeting the legal needs of the public in an effective and cost-efficient manner. Law schools play a vital role in restructuring legal education and the legal profession to fulfill our obligation to society as trusted advisors and effective leaders.

Leadership is mentioned in the mission statement of many law schools, including Baylor Law. In many ways, leadership development is a core component of the law school experience. Yet intentional leadership training has not been a part of the traditional law school curriculum, until recently. Deborah Rhode writes in Leadership and Law, "A movement has begun in legal education to incorporate programs to emphasize lawyers' professional identity in society and develop leadership skills to better equip graduates for service and leadership." Business schools have long provided specific leadership development courses and programs. Like Baylor Law, a growing number of law schools are incorporating leadership development into their programming to prepare students for their future roles as lawyers and leaders.

ABA Standard 302 requires that lawyers demonstrate competency in "other professional skills needed for competent and ethical participation as a member of the legal profession." This requirement gives law schools an incentive to stress leadership development. Common topics addressed in leadership development programs include cultural competency, conflict resolution, collaboration, negotiation, self-evaluation, and other relational skills.

Legal employers want law school graduates who need less training and mentoring."
–Dean Leah Teague, Baylor Law

"Law firms are demanding that new lawyers have not only intelligence and legal skills but also key characteristics and professional competencies to use those skills in practice and to progress within their organizations," Teague said.

The 2016 Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System study found that the majority of its respondents recognized the following professional competencies as necessary right out of law school: integrity, work ethic, common sense, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, emotional intelligence, listening attentively and respectfully, tact and diplomacy, working well with a team, empathy, self-control, self-awareness, being a self-starter, courtesy and respect for others, adaptability, resilience, and possessing a strong moral compass. These are competencies leadership development programs are designed to help law students cultivate.

Baylor Law has created a unique Leadership Development Program to meet the needs of future Baylor Lawyers and to serve as a model for other law schools.

SERVICE: The Predecessor to Leadership

As a volunteer with the Baylor Law Estate Planning Clinic, Baylor Law student Asha Brown (R) helps veterans, first responders, and their spouses with the creation of wills, powers of attorney, and other legal documents.

Dean Teague, in an article published by the Texas Bar Journal, suggests that "service is the first step to leadership." Lawyers, the legal profession, and society as a whole, benefit from lawyers' engagement in community service and leadership. She offered five reasons for lawyers to serve:

Texas lawyers are obligated to serve the public.

A law license is a privilege held by a small percentage of the population. That privilege comes with an obligation to serve. As expressed in the Preamble to the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, "A lawyer is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system, and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice. Lawyers, as guardians of the law, play a vital role in the preservation of society."

Legal and professional skills can be developed and honed through volunteer work.

Pro bono work allows lawyers to perform tasks outside of their normal workload. Lawyers working on pro bono cases gain invaluable experience toward specializations not available to them otherwise.

Community engagement increases our networks and can help build a practice.

Community engagement is an opportunity to meet prospective clients out of the office and develop professional relationships.

Volunteering can make us happier and healthier.

Aristotle once said that the essence of life is "To serve others and do good." Research from the Harvard Health Blog has shown that "serving others might also be the essence of good health." Studies have proven that volunteers have longer life spans, reduced stress, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression. In The Halo Effect, author John Raynolds argues that we are happier, more confident, and energized at work when we find purpose and meaning through heart-felt volunteering.

Our country needs us.

Our profession and our country need us to reclaim our role in society as an assembly of skilled professionals who accept as our calling a special duty to serve the public.

"Our noble profession can be the change agents our communities need," Teague said. "Our legal training gives us skills to serve. Community engagement allows lawyers to use our knowledge and skills to communicate, counsel, and persuade. Effective leadership begins with a person's values, purposes, and identity, and leads to the influencing and empowering of others to act and accomplish more together than separately. Being more intentional about pursuing a path of significance means we can live more impactful lives in the law."

BAYLOR LAWYERS: Prepared to Lead

Hon. Nicole Mitchell, JD '06, Magistrate Judge for U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, speaks to an incoming Baylor Law class.

At Baylor Law, we take pride in the fact that so many Baylor Lawyers serve in a vast array of leadership roles in their communities and throughout the legal profession. Baylor Law's mission statement expresses our "obligation to develop students who have the character, maturity, skills, and values needed to assume leadership positions." Baylor Law seeks to challenge the status quo of legal education by placing a strong emphasis on training students to care about the well-being of those around them and encouraging service to their communities. Baylor Lawyers are widely known for their willingness to serve as leaders across a broad spectrum of community organizations.

Leadership Development Program

Baylor Law's desire to produce leaders is in accord with the University's Pro Futuris strategic vision: preparing students to make a difference in the world as both citizens and leaders who have the faith and integrity to do what is right in the face of competing pressures and to apply their knowledge to ends that transcend mere self-interest.

Leadership development is a core component of the education and training of every student at Baylor Law. The Leadership Development Program was built to enhance that learning and to better prepare students for the leadership roles they will assume within their communities and the legal profession. "Servant leadership is a fundamental principle of Baylor Law's mission. The Leadership Development Program is engineered to help Baylor Law students make a positive impact," said Stephen Rispoli, JD '12, assistant dean of student affairs and pro bono programs. "The program teaches our students the art of tackling large, complex problems and succeeding with their team. Students who participate in the program gain a deeper understanding of their capabilities and skills. They learn how to use their talents to make a difference in their communities."

Servant leadership is a fundamental principle of Baylor Law's mission. The Leadership Development Program is engineered to help Baylor Law students make a positive impact"
–Stephen Rispoli,
assistant dean of student affairs
and pro bono programs

Baylor Law's Leadership Development Program was designed to provide specific emphasis and training on particular leadership skills students need in an increasingly complex and evolving legal environment. Students are trained to effectively engage and lead through the following:

  • A two-hour leadership development class
  • A character development and team building course
  • At least five additional hours of required Professional Development programming specifically focused on leadership
  • Serving as an officer of a Baylor Law student organization for at least two quarters
  • Completing 25 hours of community service
  • Serving as an intern for a charitable or community organization's director or management team or as an extern for a legislator (either state or federal level)

LEAD Counsel

Baylor Law's 2018 LEAD Counsel, from left to right: Daniel Basham, Morgan Blair, Taylor McConnell, Ellie Fossier, Cassie Patterson, Daniel Krchnavek, Brenda Carrillo, Courtney Haggett, Bray Bergstrom, Elisa Forestier, Drew Beatty, Sarah Brown, Jess Gambrell, Kimberly Trimble, Claire Mosley, Emily Long, Christina Grey, Ali Mosser.

Baylor Law's Leadership, Engagement, and Development (LEAD) Counsel is a student organization that exists to equip and inspire law students to serve in the public arena, whether as officeholders, lobbyists, or leaders in the non-profit sector. LEAD Counsel organizes and hosts an annual conference for lawyers and law students focused on leadership within the community, participates in an annual service effort in partnership with local civic leaders, and organizes an annual fundraiser in support of the service effort.

2017 Making A Difference Conference

The Inaugural Making a Difference Conference took place on February 17, 2017. The keynote speaker was Texas Senator Kirk Watson, JD '81, of Senate District 14. Watson delivered "The Importance of Community Involvement (How a Lawyer Can Lead)."

Senator Watson give the keynote address.
Former Congressman Chet Edwards, House of Representatives District 17
Dean Teague, Ashley Allison, Berkley Knas, and Abby Griffith

The first session following the keynote was a panel discussion titled, "Run for it. Don't just complain about problems in your community; do something about them." The panel consisted of former Congressman Chet Edwards, House of Representatives District 17, Councilman Dillon Meek, JD '10, member, Waco City Council, and Mayor Ken Shetter, JD '98, the long-tenured mayor of Burleson. The second session, "Breaking the code. How you can impact legislation during your legal career, and why you should want to," was presented by Joe B. Allen, JD '67, lawyer and lobbyist, and Bill Miller, a government relations specialist with HillCo Partners.

Ashley Allison, director of the Waco Foundation, Abby Griffith, a second-year Baylor Law student and founder of the Golden Door Foundation, Berkley Knas, JD '10, of Baylor Law's Alumni Relations and a Waco community leader, and Leah Jackson Teague, JD '85, associate dean of Baylor Law and founding board member of the LEAD mentorship program and several other community programs, presented "You want to help – now what? Charting a path toward leadership roles in non-profit organizations" as the third session of the conference.

The closing panel included Teague, Knas, Allison, Griffith, Edwards, Shetter, Allen, and Miller, and addressed "Roadblocks." They answered the question, "What obstacles will you face when trying to get involved in the public sphere in your community and how can you overcome them?"

"The conference surpassed our expectations," said Jenny Forgey, 2017 President of LEAD Counsel. "I've heard from several attendees that the advice given by the speakers has inspired them, and they are thinking through how they can get involved and make a difference."

2018 Making A Difference Conference

The 2018 Making a Difference Conference took place on February 9, 2018. The theme was "Passion for Justice: Using Your Law Degree to Pursue Your Passion and Serve Those in Your Community." The first session, "A View from the Bench," featured the Hon. Nathan Hecht, Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Texas. Chief Justice Hecht spoke on access to justice in Texas. Chief Justice Hecht also took questions from Baylor Law's Stephen Rispoli ranging from access to justice to mandatory pro bono requirements.

Hon. Nathan Hecht, Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Texas, answers questions.
Baylor Law's Professor Laura Hernández (L) moderates panel with Shannon Sedgwick Davis (C) and Kirsta Melton (R).
Professor Jim Gash addresses the Making a Difference Conference about his work in Uganda.

Following Chief Justice Hecht's remarks was a panel discussion focused on combating human trafficking. Professor Laura Hernández moderated questions to experts in anti-trafficking work, Shannon Sedgwick Davis, JD '00, CEO, Bridgeway Foundation, and Kirsta Melton, deputy criminal chief, Office of the Texas Attorney General. The keynote speaker, Jim Gash, associate dean of external relations and professor of law at Pepperdine School of Law, spoke on global justice and his work with the Sudreau Global Justice Program helping imprisoned juveniles and adults secure access to representation in the Ugandan justice system. He was invited by the Chief Justice of Uganda in 2012 to become a Specialist Advisor to the Ugandan High Court. Professor Gash was introduced by Baylor Law Professor Brian Serr, who spoke about his work with Professor Gash, as well a Baylor Law program in development where law student volunteers help expand access-to-justice in Africa.

"The extraordinary line-up of speakers provided for an exceptional conference. The students and attorneys in attendance gained invaluable insight to access to justice issues and left fueled with a desire to pursue their passion for justice," said Dean Brad Toben. "I am grateful for the speakers, LEAD Counsel students, faculty and staff colleagues, and attendees who made the second annual Making a Difference Conference a success."

LEAD Counsel Aids Hurricane Victims

LEAD Counsel President Morgan Blair (C) and LEAD Counsel member Jess Gambrell (L), present Lone Star Legal Aid with a check to aid Hurricane Harvey relief.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the devastation it caused the Houston metropolitan area, Baylor LEAD Counsel stepped in to serve. Baylor Law students worked alongside Lone Star Legal Aid, the Salvation Army, and the Waco Navy to organize a fundraiser and donation drive to help those affected on the Gulf Coast.

"I grew up in Port Arthur and lived in Beaumont before moving to Waco. I have lived through many storms but have never seen anything like Harvey," said Professor Bridget Fuselier, JD '98. "Families lost everything. Schools were damaged. Businesses lost. But the human spirit is remarkable. While surrounded by incredible tragedy, I witnessed incredible faith and love. They need our help now more than ever." Students collected cash and check donations, non-perishable food items, cleaning supplies, construction supplies, hygiene products, baby formula, and more.

LEAD Counsel is focused on equipping law students and lawyers to be leaders and serve."
–Morgan Blair, president of LEAD Counsel

"When Hurricane Harvey devastated the state of Texas, each one of us realized the opportunity we had to make a difference," said Morgan Blair, second-year Baylor Law student and president of LEAD Counsel. "We hope this will inspire lawyers everywhere to do the same in times of tragedy." "As lawyers, we are often called upon to help when people are experiencing moments of life-defining crisis," said Dean Brad Toben. "Hurricane Harvey left so many Texans experiencing the greatest trauma of their lives. I am proud of our Baylor Law students for answering the call for help with this relief effort. These future Baylor Lawyers model our mission as lawyers to serve our communities."

WRITTEN BY: Bethany Harper, Marketing and Communications Specialist, Baylor University
MEDIA CONTACT: Ed Nelson, Director of Marketing & Communications, Baylor Law
PHONE: 254-710-6681
PHOTOS BY: Nick Teixeira, Baylor Law School

Established in 1857, Baylor Law School was one of the first law schools in Texas and one of the first west of the Mississippi River. Today, the school has more than 7,400 living alumni. It is accredited by the American Bar Association and is a member of the Association of American Law Schools. Baylor Law School has a record of producing outstanding lawyers, many of whom decide upon a career in public service. The Law School boasts two governors, members or former members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, two former directors of the FBI, U.S. ambassadors, federal judges, justices of the Texas Supreme Court and members of the Texas Legislature, among its notable alumni.In its law specialties rankings, U.S. News & World Report ranked Baylor Law's trial advocacy program as one of the top 5 in the nation. Baylor Law School is also ranked #50 in the magazine's 2019 edition of "America's Best Graduate Schools." The National Jurist ranks Baylor Law as one of the "Best School for Practical Training," and in the top 15 "Best Law School Facilities" in the country. The Business Insider places Baylor Law among the top 50 law schools in the nation. Baylor Law School received the 2015 American Bar Association Pro Bono Publico Award, making it only the third law school in the nation to be honored with the award since the award's inception in 1984.

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having "high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 D1 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big XII Conference. Learn more at

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