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Seminar better way to learn leadership than ‘screwing up’

Diana Smith, Staff Writer//January 21, 2011

Seminar better way to learn leadership than ‘screwing up’

Diana Smith, Staff Writer//January 21, 2011

By DIANA SMITH, Staff Writer

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Attention young lawyers: Time is running out to apply for a spot in the North Carolina Bar Association’s inaugural Leadership Academy.

Qualified attorneys have until Friday to submit applications to become one of 15 lawyers in the state who will participate in a six-session leadership development program developed by the NCBA and the Center for Creative Leadership, a Greensboro nonprofit. The first session begins March 4.

The leadership academy is one of the signature projects NCBA President Gene Pridgen outlined when he took the helm of the organization last June.

It’s one component of his overall goal to focus on young lawyers during his tenure, who he noted are struggling with the competing problems of huge law school debt, fewer job opportunities and a lack of mentors to help them develop skills that don’t fall under the rubric of substantive law.

“It seems incongruous that on the one hand lawyers are expected to be leaders in the community, yet on the other they never get any training to be those leaders,” Pridgen said. 

Generally, only attorneys in the largest firms get structured training in leadership, added J. Norfleet Pruden III, a past NCBA president who heads up the subcommittee that helped develop the Leadership Academy.

But most of state’s new lawyers don’t go straight into Big Law, and that’s often where their personal development skills run the risk of getting lost as they try to meet the demands of the billable hour.

That means that when they get asked to take on a leadership role, they say yes without necessarily knowing what they’re getting into, Pruden said. 

“Whether we like it or not, one role that lawyers have is leadership,” he explained. “But if you talk to the folks who have been around a long time and involved in law firm management like I have, you’ll find that you just weren’t taught how to be a leader. There may be some natural traits that lawyers possess to make them leaders, but there are also things you can learn better from training than from screwing up.”

Young Lawyers Division Chair Roberta King concurs. When she took over leadership of 6,476-member YLD, she remembers a past chair telling her that her role was to be a conductor, and her job was to keep the train on the tracks.

“I just thought I’d better not be the one to wreck the train,” she joked.   

The NCBA is not alone in noticing a skills gap among young lawyers. State and local bar groups across the country have already noticed a need to cultivate better lawyer-leaders, hosting leadership institutes for members not only at the state level, but also in local bar associations.

 Many of those programs have been centered on creating leadership specifically within bar organizations, said Roland Smith, senior faculty and lead researcher at the Center for Creative Leadership and a visiting professor of leadership the Elon University School of Law. 

What makes the NCBA program unique, he said, is that it is created “for lawyers, by lawyers” (with CCL’s assistance), and that its goal is to train attorneys for leadership roles in community organizations that are not law-related.

They’ll do that by listening to established attorneys discuss their own path to becoming leaders and use assessment tools to identify their strengths and weaknesses and how to seize upon or improve them to be successful.

“Knowledge of the law, and expert application of law, is only the price of admission,” said Smith. “A lawyer’s ability to innovate, to collaborate and to have awareness of how they are perceived by others – and to understand the difference between our intent and our impact – is critical in our ability to influence others.”

Each session will take place March 4-5, April 1, April 29, May 20 and June 24. Most classes will meet at the Bar Center in Cary, although one will be at the CCL headquarters in Greensboro. The final session and graduation will take place at the NCBA annual meeting in Asheville.


NCBA 2011 Leadership Academy

When: March 4-5, April 1, April 29, May 20 and June 24

Where: Most sessions will take place at the Bar Center in Cary. One session, to be determined later, will be held at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro. The final session and graduation will meet at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville at the NCBA annual meeting.

Tuition: $450, which is payable prior to the first session and is nonrefundable. Some financial aid is available to young lawyers practicing in legal aid, nonprofit or public sectors upon appropriate showing that the lawyer otherwise would be unable to participate.

Prerequisites: To be eligible, applicants must:

  • Be members of the NCBA and its Young Lawyers Division;
  • Have been admitted to the practice of law for no less than two years and no more than 10 years;
  • Able to provide a recommendation letter from another Bar member;
  • Commit to attending all sessions and obtaining commitment of his or her employer to support participation and attendance. Graduation depends on attending all of the sessions.

Deadline to apply: Friday, Jan. 28. Applications can be downloaded from the NCBA website and submitted by e-mail, mail, overnight courier or in person as long as all materials are received by the deadline.

For more information: Contact NCBA executive director Allan Head at 919-677-0561 or 800-662-7407 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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