Program Empowers Students to Lead
by Amanda Drumm
Leadership Fellows Program
What makes a good leader? Part of it is the ability to read your team, provide encouragement and help everyone become the best versions of themselves. A leader likewise understands others and oneself, knowing how to handle situations with grace and tact-from a congratulatory dinner to a difficult conversation with an employee. Some of these traits are intrinsic and others are developed, through time, through a mentor or through training, such as the School of Law's Leadership Fellows Program.
The program was started in 2019 through a joint effort between Dean April Barton and others on and off campus. "It's such a shared experience between our faculty, staff and alumni. We do this as a community, and I know we always leave sessions blown away by what our students say," said Barton.
The yearlong program reflects on the meaning of leadership in law and how to hone those skills, offering such classes as Value-Centered Leadership and Inclusive Leadership. How to Bring a Leadership Mindset to Your Interviews and Job prepares students to share their leadership mindset early in their careers. Several sessions include panel discussions where Duquesne Law alumni share their knowledge and advice with students.
Professor Jane Moriarty, Carol Los Mansmann Chair in Faculty Scholarship, teaches the class How to Speak and Present with Influence. The vital skill of speaking confidently is one that leaders and lawyers share, and one that Moriarty is happy to impart to students.
"It is such a critical piece of leadership, how to present oneself as a professional and to be good at it and enjoy it," Moriarty said. "I talk about people who are influential when they speak; they have a certain level of nonchalance in speaking, like the Italian word ‘sprezzatura'-without effort, without thought. You want public speaking to look easy when you do it as if it took no thought at all. This takes an enormous amount of practice, but we talk about how to do it and get to that level."
Faculty member Ashley London, Director of Bar Studies and Assistant Professor of Legal Skills, teaches Leadership Inside and Out with Maryann Herman, Director of Academic Excellence and Assistant Professor of Legal Skills. London is passionate about instructing in the program because she thinks it builds essential career skills and confidence that may otherwise take years to develop.
"I did not come into this study until later in my career, but I realize that if I had known some of these things earlier in my law career, it would have been really beneficial. It is a way to get the new generation thinking at this level years before I ever did," she said.
Kebron Yeshitela Assefa, a 2L student who graduated from the 2020-2021 program, is reflecting on what she learned last year and using that knowledge.
"Every meeting in the program was a massive opportunity to learn about others and myself," Assefa said. "One thing that stands out to me is how this program gave me the chance to reflect on my attributes. This, in turn, allowed me to hone my strengths and work on my weaknesses as I go through law school and my job as a law clerk."
Empowered to Serve
The early adaptation of leadership skills and confidence building is only one facet of Leadership Fellows. A deeply intentional element of the program is related to the part that is unique to a Duquesne education-the focus on ethics and how to serve others. Leadership Fellows seamlessly meshes these components to create a program whose focus is career launching, impactful and meaningful for a broader society.
"The emphasis on leadership and the nexus with ethics is uniquely Duquesne. We have recognized this early and are making this investment for students to really grow and shine-maybe sooner than other law schools," London said.
"I do think Duquesne is a really special place; people here are largely attuned to this, and we are able to make an investment in futures through this programming."
Maura Clark, a 2L student and 2020-2021 program graduate, found the Law School's mission "Salus populi suprema lex"-"The welfare of the people is the highest law"-deeply entrenched in Leadership Fellows.
"One of the major takeaways I had from the program was always to keep in mind that, at its core, the legal profession is one of service to others, which aligns closely with Duquesne's mission," Clark said. "It was clear to me after completing this program that Duquesne Law is teaching its students to practice what it preaches."
This relationship between law, leadership and ethics is a link that Barton connected early on when developing the program.
"Our Spiritan mission and the Spiritan pedagogy guide has a lot in there," she said. "We talk about education as a path to empowerment. Part of contemporary leadership is about different qualities, a vision, competence and poise, but also about being inclusive and focusing on other differentiators.
"Authenticity, caring, integrity and ethics-doing the right thing and knowing your own moral compass. This is leadership and is in direct alignment with our Spiritan mission of acting for a higher purpose."
Second-year student Kaila Williams graduated from last year's program. A former English teacher, she enjoyed the access to connections with fellow students and alumni, but the purpose in the program was equally impactful. She was particularly struck by the guiding principles in the classes.
"I think the program does a great job of tying in ethical practices with leadership and service in students' everyday lives," Williams said. "The community that is built through the program is heavily supported by the Law School and its associates. I believe the program strengthens the Law School's mission of creating lawyers that not only excel in their profession, but also serve and support others."
Empowered to Lead
Natalie Packert, a 2L student, is part of the 2021-2022 class that consists of more than 40 law students. She joined Leadership Fellows because she wants to use her law career to be impactful and to be a leader. She sees this program as a natural way to infuse those ideas to add momentum early in her career.
"It brings forward the mission and the ‘it's time for bigger goals' message," Packert said. "There is the real-world law application when we will hear from alumni and other speakers. I am also interested in how to positively affect daily life and the workplace."
Clark shared a similar assessment of the program. "The Leadership Fellows Program taught me that being a good legal professional and leader goes far beyond the basic skills we learn in the classroom each day," she said. "To be a good lawyer and a good leader, it is imperative to acknowledge and embrace our differences as human beings, remain true to our values, and be resilient and courageous in times of challenge."
The students in the program are part of a generation who want to change the world for the better, who want to be a guiding force in it, and who want to get a head start on making the world a better place. Stephon Burton, a 3L student, graduated from the 2020-2021 class. His desire to positively transform others was part of his reason for completing the program.
"The common good is the highest law, and that fits in perfectly with how we can use our gifts to further advance our goals of affecting positive change," Burton said. "In my opinion, the program wholeheartedly fits in with how to be more ethical, more conscientious. I want to leave with a positive impact on the room. I want to walk away feeling like people are a bit better because I did my job."
Prepared for What's Next
Leadership Fellows alumni are continuing their knowledge and building off their heart for service through a current project. As part of a recent grant, they are working on a daylong program for high school students about the importance of democracy and the role of lawyers. They hope to have 80 high school students from the Pittsburgh area attend.
"It will focus on what democracy means, what freedom means and how lawyers play an important role in society," said Jacob Broadway, 3L, who graduated from last year's program.
The seminar resonates with the mission of the program because it will focus on education, a core proponent of leadership.
"One of the things Dean Barton talks about is education is a path to empowerment. This program teaches us that and helps us learn how to use that to better serve others," Broadway said.
Barton is helping to guide them with the project, and is impressed by their work and watching what they learned come to fruition. She is encouraged by the students who have been through the program and those who are undertaking it this year.
"There are a lot of great reasons to teach leadership in law school; one is it is difficult to try to learn about it on your own after practice in 10 years," she said. "We want to get a head start on it, to open minds and to think about it in an intentional way in law school.
"It is a continuing journey, to understand value-centered leadership," she added. "Our graduates articulate their core values, know their why and their purpose, and that is a real differentiator. You want to work for a firm whose values align with your own values. It is a deep conversation about what graduates should be thinking about it, and this generation is really attuned with it and really gets that."