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Leah Teague

Leah Teague

Training Law Students to Converse Respectfully: Public Discourse Workshop

By: Leah Teague, Professor of Law & Director of The Leadership Development Program, Baylor Law School

As previously discussed, amendments to ABA Standard 303(b) (development of a professional identity) & (c) (education to law students on bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism) did not require major adjustments to our programming at Baylor Law. Still, we created a faculty committee to document our compliance and consider enhancements. The committee confirmed numerous ways in which Baylor Law already complies and then considered additional opportunities to enhance their training.

This post highlights one of those enhancements. Beginning with the Fall 2022 entering class, students in each entering class are required to participate in a public deliberation workshop in their second week of law school.

What is public deliberation and why should law students learn how to do it?

The public expects lawyers to be zealous advocates for their clients, but sometimes a lawyer’s conduct goes beyond zealous advocacy and crosses the line of civility. Not only does ill-mannered conduct reflect poorly on our profession, but it also contributes to the normalizing of disrespectful, uncivil, and polarizing reactions to viewpoints and statements with which a person does not agree.

Lawyers’ professional obligations extend beyond individual clients to our system of justice and to society. As stated in the preamble to the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct: A Lawyer’s Responsibility, “[a] lawyer is a representative of the clients, an officer of the legal system, and a public citizen having a special responsibility for the quality of justice.” Since the beginning of this nation, lawyers have recognized that their special status comes with a professional responsibility to address pressing issues facing society. A lawyer’s legal education and training provide the opportunity to be change agents and difference makers not only for their clients but also in their communities and across the nation. These professional obligations and opportunities for influence call for lawyers to model civil discourse and to be able to facilitate deliberation in a calm and respectful manner.

The Public Deliberation Workshop teaches our students a different way to approach advocacy – one that helps them embody professionalism, model civility, and advocate more effectively. The following excerpt (from Baylor University’s website) succinctly summarizes the Baylor Public Deliberation Initiative:

“Deliberation involves the best parts of dialogue (conversational) and debate (argument) to offer an experience where participants can learn from one another by talking through different perspectives and approaches to local and global issues and working together to come up with community action steps.

We want this experience to occur early in law school, so students recognize that civility and professionalism are not antithetical to zealously representing a client. We also hope the experience will inspire and enable students to approach some of the most potentially heated issues debated in the public square (e.g., race, religion and its role in society, sexual orientation, gun rights or gun control, among others) with a desire to build community through shared values, solve problems, and build a better tomorrow.

Public Deliberation Workshop Required for Baylor Law Students

Beginning with the Fall 2022 quarter, each entering student at Baylor Law is introduced to a model for civil discourse through a workshop developed in partnership with Baylor University’s Public Deliberation Initiative. Dr. Joshua Ritter, former Director of the Public Deliberation Initiative, leads the workshops and describes it as a “partnership for training law students as active deliberative citizens with democratic skillsets they can implement within their own communities and leadership.”

The 1½ hour workshop begins with a video from our dean to explain the importance of the effort and to give some context. After some initial remarks and instructions by Dr. Ritter, the law students are divided into groups of 10-12 and given an issue for discussion. Different topics can be used but it needs to be one that elicits a wide range of differing views. We use food insecurity in our workshops to provide a less controversial topic but one with which students have a wide range of understanding and personal experience. The goal is not to change anyone’s mind on the issue, but simply for each participant to hear and to be heard on the issue. Topics incorporated into the training include active listening, cultural competency, and emotional intelligence.

Through this interactive exercise, we hope to demonstrate to students that individuals with diametrically opposed positions often share common values, but they may prioritize those values differently. We are already seeing the benefit to the law school environment as well. Creating a culture of respect for colleagues with different life experiences and perspectives enriches our classrooms and programs.

The workshops provide additional opportunities for second- or third-year law students as well. Law students in our Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) course are trained by Dr. Ritter to be the small group facilitators for upcoming workshops. As facilitators, their job is to keep the group on task while remaining neutral. After training and participation, the law students receive certificates as public deliberation facilitators.

Teaching students about expected behavior as legal professionals is baked into the DNA of a Baylor Law education. With that said, we recognize more can and should be done. Nine years ago, we made significant strides to be more intentional in our professional development training. In 2014, we created our Professional Development Program and our Leadership Development Program to better equip students for the modern challenges of being a member of our time-honored profession. The Public Deliberation Workshop is our newest addition to what we are now calling Baylor Lawyer Pathways, which will be described in a future post.

Please contact me at Leah_Teague@baylor.edu  for more information on any of our programs. 

Leah Witcher Jackson Teague is a Professor of Law and the Director of Business Law Programs at Baylor Law School.

Leah Teague

Baylor Law’s Professional Identity Formation History and the Influence of the Carnegie Report and the Holloran Center on Baylor Law’s Continual Professional Identity Formation Efforts

By: Leah Witcher Jackson Teague, Professor of Law & Director of Business Law Program and Leadership Development Program, Baylor Law School

Thanks to Robin Thorner, Assistant Dean, Office of Career Strategy, at St. Mary’s Law School, law faculty and staff interested in professional identity formation efforts gathered twice in the fall to converse. The next conversation is scheduled for this Thursday, January 26, at 3:00 p.m. Central using the following link via Zoom. I plan to join and hope you will too!

During the fall gatherings, a common request was for more information about law schools’ processes for addressing the recent amendments to ABA 303 and descriptions of programs, events, and activities. In this post, I offer some insight on the background for our work at Baylor Law and also thank the Holloran Center for encouraging us, and so many others, in our work in the areas of professional development and leadership development. In a future post, I will describe Baylor Law’s ongoing review process of our professional identity formation efforts in response to the amendments to ABA Standard 303.

At Baylor Law, professional identity formation efforts have been part of the fabric of our program throughout our 165-year history, but not by that name. As I recently wrote in a post, professional development and leadership development, in an informal manner, have been “baked” into our program from the beginning. Baylor Law’s mission statement expresses a desire to “develop lawyers who are able to practice law with competence, serve with compassion, and provide effective and ethical leadership.” We strive to prepare our students for the demands they will face as members of the legal profession. We also want them to be better equipped to use their legal education and training, along with their status in society as lawyers, to serve effectively and be difference makers.

Our approach to legal education (which incorporates legal analysis, practical lawyering skills, and professionalism) aligns with the scaffolding approach advocated in Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law (more commonly referred to as the “Carnegie Report”). The Carnegie Report, published in 2007, described the three dimensions of professional education that are necessary to adequately prepare students for their careers and professional obligations. The three dimensions for legal education were described as:

  1. Critical thinking skills and legal knowledge that have been the traditional focus of law schools.
  2. Practice application and skills development through experiential education as mandated in the ABA Standards beginning approximately 2005.
  3. Professional identity formation defined as “effective ways to engage and make their own the ethical standards, social roles, and responsibilities of the profession, grounded in the profession’s fundamental purposes.”

This scaffolding approach to legal education aligns perfectly with the practical, values-based, and service-oriented approach to legal education at Baylor Law. When the Carnegie Report came out in 2007, I admittedly did not give its findings and recommendations the attention it deserved, that is, not until hearing presentations and reading articles from our friends at the Holloran Center (specifically Co-Directors Neil Hamilton and Jerry Organ and Holloran Center Fellow Lou Bilionis) and others who devoted years to improving the professional development and ethical leadership of our law students.

Before meeting these dedicated teachers and scholars, we had already begun our own efforts at Baylor Law to enhance and incorporate more emphasis on professional identity formation and professional development of our students, including the creation of our Professional Development Program and Leadership Development Program in 2014. Validation that we were on the right track with our approach to legal education came for us in the fall of 2016 when Neil Hamilton and Lou Bilionis traveled to Waco, Texas to lead our Baylor Law faculty and staff in a workshop. The Holloran Center team complimented us on our multi-dimensional, multi-year approach. Baylor Law professors were encouraged to better communicate to our students the efforts already in place to teach and enforce professionalism. I offer my perspective of fundamental aspects of our approach to teaching and training Baylor Lawyers:

  • teach students to think like lawyers;
  • offer a variety of practical skills training opportunities;
  • require a rigorous practicum in the third year;
  • insist upon professionalism (work ethic, respect for one another, integrity, etc.) in all interactions inside and outside the classroom; and
  • encourage students to adopt a service orientation in their professional and personal endeavors.

The Holloran Center initiatives continued to inform and inspire our work in the summers of 2017 and 2019, when Baylor Law faculty and staff joined teams from other law schools to attend Holloran Center summer workshops. Again, we were encouraged to compose a description of our professionalism training that spans from orientation through graduation. As part of our work in response to the 303 amendments, we are making a conscious effort to do so. More detail of our work in this area will be shared in a future post.

The Holloran Center’s work on professional identity formation continues to influence and inspire us as we seek to improve and enhance the “whole building” approach (as described by Dean Emeritus Bilionis) to teaching, training, and inspiring Baylor law students. Thank you!

I am always happy to visit further with anyone who desires additional information. Feel free to reach out to me at Leah_Teague@baylor.edu.

Leah Witcher Jackson Teague is the Professor of Law and Director of Business Law Programs at Baylor Law School.


Leah Teague

“The Difference Makers”: Professional Identity of Lawyers in America

By: Leah Witcher Jackson Teague, Professor of Law & Director of Business Law Programs, Baylor Law School

As law schools consider suitable approaches to professional identity formation, insight can be found in applicants’ personal statements. Many aspiring law students express a desire to “make a difference.” Students enter our law schools committed to using their time, talent, and efforts as lawyers to make a difference in the lives of clients or in their community or to have an impact that ripples throughout society. They want to solve problems for individuals who are less fortunate or to positively impact a larger group for the “greater good.” Law school personnel applaud those intentions for we know that lawyers are difference makers. It is part of our professional identity and our obligation to society. Shouldn’t law schools strive to equip and inspire law students to be difference makers?

The Preamble to the ABA Model Rules for Professional Conduct provides instruction about the role of lawyers in America: “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 have a special obligation to society as keepers of the rule of law and protectors of individual freedoms and rights. And as clients and organizations look to us for representation, guidance, and leadership, lawyers have the opportunity to address important issues that impact not only our nation but also the future of the legal profession. A law student’s journey to becoming an honorable member of this profession should include attention to these important issues and the role of lawyers in helping to secure our nation’s system of governance.

At Baylor Law, professional development and informal leadership development have always been woven into the education and training of every Baylor Law student. From the emphasis on service during the first day of orientation through our nationally-renowned third-year Practice Court program, Baylor Law faculty strive to develop individuals who will be prepared for the challenges of the legal profession and equipped to serve effectively. As a result, we proudly watch Baylor Lawyers serve their clients effectively and lead within the profession and throughout their communities.

In 2014, we implemented two programs to be more intentional about preparing our students to enter the profession as competent and prepared professionals who are ready to serve and lead. Both programs have been recognized by the ABA with its prestigious E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award. In 2018, our Practice Ready Professional Development Program received the Gambrell award. This past August, Baylor Law’s innovative Leadership Development Program was honored with the recognition.

In future posts we will provide more details about recent changes to our professional identity formation efforts, including the expansion of our Professional Development Program. Through our required Professional Development Program, students must attend 21 professional development training sessions (60 to 90 minutes each). Some are mandatory, but most are not, giving students options from a wide variety of subjects. We offer between 6 and 10 sessions each of our four academic terms per year to provide students with a selection of topics that are aligned with their career aspirations.

Our Leadership Development Program focuses on professional competencies and skills that better prepare students for the challenges that await them after graduation and that better equip them for the important roles they will assume as they enter our noble profession. The objectives of the Leadership Development Program are to encourage and assist law students to:

  1. Embrace their professional identity as they serve clients and society;
  2. Develop competencies and skills to succeed; and
  3. Boldly seek opportunities to make a difference in the profession, their communities, and the world.

We want to help them become their best self and reach their potential. Throughout their time at Baylor, we strive to introduce students to values-based professional development and leadership development concepts that provide the means to be more effective difference makers by helping them:

  • better understand their talents and shortcomings;
  • garner courage to make course corrections as appropriate;
  • improve their professional skills;
  • make decisions guided by ethics and values;
  • embrace failure as opportunities for growth;
  • value differences when working with others;
  • build stronger, productive working relationships with others;
  • think strategically and imagine possibilities;
  • prioritize wellness for themselves and others; and
  • seek to add value wherever they go.

Even before the new requirements in the amendments to ABA Standard 303(b) we sought to address the professional identity formation of our law students. The recent amendments provided an opportunity to consider further enhancements to our program. We look forward to sharing our progress with you in future posts.

Thanks to each of you for your good efforts! I know the work can be challenging and the progress dilatory, but I am so encouraged by all the consequential work occurring throughout legal education

For more information, please feel free to reach out to me at Leah_Teague@baylor.edu.

Leah Witcher Jackson Teague is the Professor of Law and Director of Business Law Programs at Baylor Law School.