The leadership Role of a Lawyer in a Social Construct: An Overview By Peter Stanley

There are three keywords in this topic- leadership, lawyer, and social construct (which could mean a lot of things, but for the purpose of this lecture would be limited to meaning society).

It was Peter Drucker, the foremost management consultant, educator, and author, who in commenting on the concept of leadership said: “Leadership is not magnetic personality, that can as well be a glib of tongue. It is not “making friends and influencing people”, that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of personality beyond it’s normal limitations.”
Vital concepts in these words are “higher sights”, and “beyond limitations.” This position helps us conceptualize leadership as a task to inspire people to dream big and promote excellence. Agreeing with Peter Drucker is Gary Wills (winner of the Pulitzer price for his book “Lincoln in Gettysburg”) who in the same vein stated that “The leader is one who mobilizes others towards a goal shared by leaders and followers…leaders, followers and goals makeup the three equally necessary support for leadership.

A takeaway from the aforesaid is that leadership is a quintessential attribute possessed by certain persons who has the ability to influence others to seeing the big picture and helping them grow into that reality.
Importantly, one can be born a leader, be trained into becoming a leader, or be a leader as an implication of the position they occupy or their occupation. However, psychologists largely believe the ability to effectively motivate, direct, and lead a group of people – whether it is in business, sport, or politics – requires a very complex set of skills, mostly acquired through experience, self-development, as well as access to subsequent training. It is in this regard that we consider how lawyers have certain leadership role to play especially within the social environment in which they exist.
The question then becomes – Are all lawyers leaders?
From the previous conceptualization of leadership, the answer would be in the negative. However, it was Dean Acheson, an alumnus of Harvard Law school and former U.S Secretary of State who once said: “I learned to analyze a problem, take it part by part, see it from all sides while at the Harvard Law School.”


Let’s note very importantly that effective leadership is not rocket science, it is borne out of experience, a complex set of skills, training, self development, amongst others.
In Socrates traditional method of approaching questions around complex judicial cases, he espoused that being able to analyze a problem, dissect it in parts, and see it from all sides defines a lawyer.
Christopher Columbus Langdell LL.B 1854, explained further that students would learn through the Socratic case method to move from the general to particular, because to have such mastery of principles or doctrines as to be able to apply them with constant facility and certainty to the ever tangled skein of human affairs, is what constitutes a true lawyer.
By Columbus definition of a true lawyer and the attributes of a leader as one who has not just experience and skill, but one who is able to solve problems by analyzing them, taking them apart, and seeing them from all sides before making a decision, makes every “True lawyer” a leader. And in the pursuit of the collective society’s interest of harmonious coexistence, order, and the social well-being of people in society, the lawyer has some moral obligation to provide not just legal aid, but also leadership.

The Leadership Role of Lawyers
We have seen lawyers like Dean Acheson, former U.S Secretary of State who was instrumental through his superb leadership in the creation of the Marshall Plan, NATO, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank; Robert Zoellick, former President to the World Bank; Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland; Barack Obama, first ever black American President, amongst others, all lawyers who have provided impeccable leadership in the different sectors in which they served.
The courtroom activities is also a form of leadership; interpreting the law, ensuring justice, and guiding the nation towards a better justice system that permits for the ordered growth and existence of society is a leadership act that the judiciary carries out. In this spirit, Ben W. Heineman, Jr. had said in his book “Laws and Leadership” that “law school graduates should not just be wise counselors but wise leaders; not just to dispense practical wisdom, but wise leaders; not just to have positions where they advise but where they decide.”

The need for leaders in our communities, in our country, has never been greater. A lot of people believe that this nation has far reaching leadership crisis. Some believe our nation has never been more complex, polarized, and siloed than now. We need leaders who have vision, values, integrity and the ability to see beyond the narrow perspectives of one side. We need lawyers to step up and play more active roles in their communities.

Lawyers offer many skill sets that are helpful in accomplishing goals and effectuating change. Law schools develop student’s proficiencies in identifying and analyzing issues and problems, and in communicating clearly and persuasively as necessary. Lawyers know that negotiation and compromise may be necessary to move past gridlock. Our code of professional conduct establishes an expectation of civility and integrity in our actions.


To be more particular, with reference to African societies; lawyers hold a certain esteem in the public eye, they are seen as the representatives of justice, equity, and fairness; they are largely believed to be better educated and better poised to make the decisions in certain important situations. This widespread orientation which unfortunately is now fading, places the African lawyer una position where he is not just a lawyer, but also a decision maker, an inspiration to others, and could be a mechanism through which personal and collective goals could be achieved. And just as Alexis de Tocqueville recognized and celebrated more than 150 years ago, it is vital that lawyers more candidly recognize the importance of their traits which is as a consequence of their training and how this training bequests on them roles of ultimate responsibility and accountability.

Pitiably, the Nigeria state suffers a leadership deficit, and not to be insensible, it is not because we have not had lawyers in leadership offices, but because we have not had the brightest, most ethical, toughest, most broad-gauged to combine strong substantive vision with an ability to get things done. Our lawyers have through the process of their education and training, the prerequisite leadership acumen to drive growth in most sectors. They can try – and I emphasize try – to address the deficit if they are so motivated.

However, the business of building a better society is the collective responsibility of both the leaders and the followers. And in providing leadership for societal growth, the role of the skills, experience, and training of the lawyer could be of grave essence.
But the legal profession is at a crossroads as well. What will be the role of lawyers in society in the future? The profession is forever changing. We are experiencing an inkling of what is to come with technology and the impact of artificial intelligence on our profession, but we do not really know the full implications. Which of our traditional lawyering tasks will be automated? How will we adapt? Will we recognize that a lawyer’s€™ highest and best use is not as legal technicians (although that will sure be required)? Will we remember that our role as legal analysts, advocates and problem solvers allow us to effectively counsel and influence clients and organizations? Will we finally find a way to stem the tide of mistrust in lawyers and lack of faith in the institution that is our system of democracy and its rule of law?
Planning for what society needs from lawyers in the future is why we should begin to think about skills beyond learning substantive law or technical skills, which have been the focus of law schools traditionally. The skill sets needed as counselors and leaders are those who are going to help clients and organizations work through their issues. These skills are going to be even more important to lawyers in the future. They will be just as important as professional responsibility, ethics, and service to the public. Leadership should be equally pervasive in our language as we teach our clients, friends, and family about our obligations and opportunities as lawyers.

About the Author

Peter Stanley is a graduate of political science, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University and a Law Student, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He is a seasoned author and writes from Enugu.


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