A growing number of legal educators are calling for greater attention to leadership development as an element of legal education at American law schools. Some make the case directly in the name of leadership education. Others see leadership development as part of a broader law school responsibility to provide purposeful support for students in the formation of their professional identity. For yet others, development of leadership skills figures in a law school’s appropriate commitment to the professionalism, professional development, or wellness of its students. These educators, though employing different locutions, constitute a “coalition of the willing” – law school faculty and staff who are adopting innovations to help advance their students in their development as professionals. They are promoting, at bottom, the same fundamental innovation: the institution of purposeful, more systematic educational effort by the law school to support each student’s formation of professional identity and purpose.
Were this innovation to take hold, it would bring about a major and beneficial reframing of legal education. This article submits that the reframing is within reach. To attain it, however, will take effective leadership. Drawing on Everett M. Rogers’ classic work, Diffusion of Innovations, this article demonstrates that the conditions for successful leadership are present. The necessary leaders are in place and identifiable. They are the members of the “coalition of the willing” – opinion leaders with the greatest potential sway on those colleagues who have yet to adopt. The necessary followers similarly are in place and identifiable. They are legal education colleagues with discernible sensibilities – and they are disposed to give the innovation deliberate and open consideration, and to value heavily the examples set and opinions shared by their colleagues in the coalition. The consideration these potential adopters will give to the innovation will follow a predictable process and take into account predicable factors – permitting the leaders to engage in purposeful, effective leadership that meets their followers where they are, providing them the information they need in the form and manner most conducive to their adoption. A well-informed and well-led consideration should leave the potential adopters impressed with the innovation. Purposeful support of professional identity formation is an innovation that is compatible with their values, easy to try and implement, and replete with relative advantage for students, the law school, and the faculty and administrators who work there.
Santa Clara Law Review, Vol. 58, Issue 3 (2018 forthcoming)