Georgetown University Law Center
Category: Georgetown Magazine, Spring 2021

Title:Innovative ‘Lawyers as Leaders’ course attracts record enrollment

Author: Sara Piccini
Date Published: May 27, 2021

Last fall, the Georgetown University Law Center introduced a new course with a format far different from the typical deep dive into case law. The class, Lawyers as Leaders, featured weekly one-on-one conversations between Dean William Treanor and faculty luminaries such as Lawrence Gostin, Rosa Brooks, and Paul Butler.

Although the Zoom format meant that enrollment wasn’t limited by classroom size, Treanor was expecting at most 120 students to sign up. Nearly triple that number ended up enrolling. “This was hands-down the biggest course in the history of the law school,” he says. “I was stunned.”

Lawyers as Leaders was spearheaded by Associate Dean Hillary Sale, a nationally recognized expert on leadership who holds a joint appointment at the McDonough School of Business. “One thing particularly special about Georgetown faculty is that they are outward-facing—they want to make a difference. And every interview really gave our students a window into the different ways one can take a legal education and use it to make the world a better place.”

As an abstract concept, leadership is far more difficult to teach than conventional law. “My inclination is to teach through stories,” says Treanor, a trained historian as well as legal scholar. “In each class, I asked my guest about goal formation. How did you decide what you wanted to do? What were the bumps you encountered along the way and how did they shape you? And finally, what works?”

Sale notes that faculty members allowed themselves to be vulnerable, which had a powerful impact for students. “Many times we as students can feel really intimidated by our professors,” says Rujuta Nandgaonkar (L’22). “It seems like their path is so linear, they only have success after success, while our paths often have felt so uncertain, even before COVID-19.

“Professor Gostin, the first lecturer, talked about how he’d grown up in poverty, and how that had shaped his unending commitment to optimism. I was able to see how he could use his knowledge and academic prowess to fight for a cause beyond himself.”

Just as Georgetown redefined legal education 30 years ago with its clinical programs, Treanor and Sale are looking ahead to position the institution as a pioneer in leadership training among the nation’s law schools. They are currently co-teaching a leadership course for Business Law Scholars, and are working to implement other programs throughout the Law Center.

“The last year has shown that there is deep trouble in our legal profession,” says student Max Lesser (L’22). “Lawyers have real responsibility that has to be carried out with fidelity to the rule of law and democratic principles.

“I think schools need to do a better job of teaching that aspect of the law, not just a de facto professional responsibility course, but making it part of the animating spirit of the law school experience. I give Dean Treanor and the law school a lot of credit for doing this course, and I hope more law schools follow suit.”

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