J. Reuben Clark Law Society

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: New International Chair
Stephen L. West Speaks to Leadership Conference Attendees on
Effective Leadership, Professional Excellence, and Moral Accountability

Stephen L. West, the new International Chair of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, addressed an audience of attorneys, law students, and guests at the Friday morning session of the annual JRCLS Leadership Conference held at Aspen Grove on September 29.

Referring to an address given to incoming law students by James Rasband, former Dean of the J. Reuben Clark Law School, entitled "In Praise of Thinking Like a Lawyer" (Clark Memorandum, Fall 2014), West asserted that learning to "think like a lawyer" is actually a form of leadership training. During the first year of law school, students learn to listen empathetically to opposing views, treat like cases alike, and apply correct standards of review. These skills are also hallmarks of effective leaders. Legal training prepares lawyers for leadership, and throughout the world, lawyers lead in many capacities, perhaps more so than any other profession. People look to lawyers to lead, seeking them out to address and resolve complex and challenging issues. Yet, almost no other occupation generates the level of distrust and negativity that seems to cloud the legal profession. Many view lawyers as aloof, cynical, and overly competitive. While strong analytical skills are useful in trial or negotiations, they can also be used to demean or confuse.  

West cited Stanford Law School Professor Deborah Rhode, who observes in her book, "Lawyers as Leaders," that while successful lawyers are often confident, ambitious, and competitive by nature, these qualities often shut down the "softer" interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence that are also required for effective leadership. West suggested that when lawyers temper their strong analytical skills and drive with empathy, patience, and humility, they become more effective leaders who can see past their own ambition and provide the vision and guidance to lead others. He challenged members of the Law Society to put their powerful analytical skills, tempered by the influence of virtue, to work within "the light of a moral law which leads them to feel accountable to something much higher than themselves." He also commented that the combination of professional excellence and moral accountability is the key to the worthy influence that is critical to the many endeavors in which lawyers are called to lead. In addition, he challenged each leader of the Law Society to think through the Law Society's mission statement and be prepared to articulate and defend what we believe when we say we "affirm the strength brought to the law by a lawyer's personal religious conviction."

West also remarked that, over time, the rule of law is most effectively sustained by those who are both professionally excellent and morally accountable. He cited John Adams' declaration that the United States Constitution was made only for a "moral and religious" people. West asserted that without a sense of allegiance to something higher than ourselves, the supreme law of this nation and of other free nations will be "wholly inadequate" to our governance.
West closed his presentation by inviting the audience to think more carefully about their own professional excellence and moral accountability, and reminded them that "the credibility of the Law Society is directly correlated with the worthy influence of its members."

By: Wendy F. Jerdon, Media Committee

Posted: November 30, 2017