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Trial Magazine

Diversity in the Workplace: Learning to Lead Together

The civil justice system is strengthened by diverse advocates—and it starts in attorneys’ own practices.

Erin Nowell June 2017

AAJ’s Leadership Academy offers members from diverse backgrounds training to develop their leadership skills in the office, the courtroom, and other professional settings. One graduate shares her experience.

I thought I knew what to expect when I applied for AAJ’s Leadership Academy: learning about the expectations for those who choose to take on more prominent leadership roles within AAJ, being offered the tools to help attain those roles, and proving my commitment to become that kind of leader. But I was wrong—and I am so happy that I was.

While Leadership Academy is an AAJ-sponsored activity, its purpose is to benefit individual members. You can apply the lessons you learn to your firm, your clients, other organizations in which you have a leadership role, and even within your own family.
What amounts to six full-day sessions with two instructors and 15 other people helps you become a better leader. How? It’s because Leadership Academy doesn’t do those things—you do. The program acts as a catalyst for you to better understand yourself and, by extension, those around you.

The experience challenges you to dig deep. You will begin to understand how your own characteristics—such as your personality traits, thought processes, and reactions to change—affect your decision-making. For example, how much information and time do you need to make a decision? Would it matter if the decision kept the status quo or diverged from it? Would it matter how the information was conveyed to you—or by whom?

Understanding how these factors affect your daily decisions, both insignificant and crucial, can change how you approach every part of your day—and every person you encounter.

AAJ’s Diversity Committee created the Leadership Academy to provide members of underrepresented groups with training to develop leadership skills in their practices, in their communities, and within the association. The Academy is now in its fifth year, and participants attend three two-day sessions that coincide with the annual convention and the spring and fall Board of Governors meetings. Topics coveredin the 2017 Academy include the changing nature of leadership, increasing self-awareness, and factors for successful collaboration. Members in good standing who are part of an underrepresented group within AAJ are eligible to apply. For more information, visit www.justice.org/leadershipacademy.

Leadership Academy also helps you understand how you relate to others. So much effort is taken to create a truly diverse group. While diversity is created on the surface with different genders, races, ages, years in practice, areas of practice, and levels of expertise, it’s the deeper levels—each attorney’s personality, intricate thought processes, and working relationships—that enrich the group. There are introverts and extroverts, risk-takers, conservative thinkers, those with a laissez-faire attitude when it comes to stress, and those who ruminate endlessly on every detail.

This is not just a leadership class—it’s training for the real world because every workplace, committee meeting, and courtroom will have this mixture of personalities. By engaging in an open dialogue about how your classmates think and feel about different topics, you will find answers to how you should persuade, communicate with, or manage these types of personalities in your daily interactions.

I have reached out to my classmates for insight on a simple office issue or to help me understand a new type of litigation—and sometimes just to have a conversation with someone who knows who I really am.
And this does not just apply within each class: The experience also is a bonding agent among graduates from different classes. I look to them for guidance, and I trust them implicitly.

Leadership Academy isn’t about creating individual leaders; it’s about building a united force of strong leaders who, collectively, can accomplish anything.

Erin Nowell is a shareholder at Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett in Dallas, and she is a 2016 Leadership Academy graduate. She can be reached at enowell@sgpblaw.com.