July/August 2020

Taking the Lead

Leadership Does Not Take a Snow Day

Linda Klein and John Hinton IV

When leaders go above and beyond the call of duty, particularly without regard to how those acts will be perceived by others, they serve as an inspiration. A recent Law.com article highlights such an act of service and leadership by a law school dean. The article recounts how Joshua Fershée, the dean of the Creighton University School of Law, handled a recent snow day. The storm closed local schools, but not the university. That meant the possibility of no classes for law school students with school-aged children.

Fershée recognized the importance of attendance and did not want any of the law students to miss class because they were unable to find child care. His solution was to watch any children who had nowhere else to go so their parents could attend class. He cleared his calendar and offered his day care services at the law school for the day. Although most affected students were able to find alternative care, Fershée’s day care had two students that day, which was a relief to their parents who were able to attend class. Fershée’s story struck us as an example of leadership to emulate.

A Small, Unexpected Sacrifice for His Clients

Law firms exist for and because of our clients. At a law school, the students are the clients, a point clearly not lost on Fershée. Of course, it is not the law school’s job to provide emergency day care services, but Fershée recognized that excellent client service for his students involved more than providing state-of-the-art facilities, excellent instruction and financial aid. He demonstrated a client-first attitude by taking a sacrificial and unexpected step to serve his students. Fershée’s act of service should inspire us to search for opportunities to make sacrifices for our clients in unexpected ways. That he is the top leader of the law school should also inspire us to create and take these opportunities no matter how high we rise within our own organization.

Do you look for opportunities to make small, unexpected sacrifices to serve your client? When those opportunities present themselves, are you willing to make the sacrifice? Such acts of service might involve driving your out-of-town clients to the airport, voluntarily researching (free of charge) an issue that is important to them or buying them a copy of a book that you discussed.

Small Sacrifice, Likely Large Dividends

We don’t know all the ways in which the dean’s one small act affected the law school community, but some of them are self-evident. The mere fact that he made himself available almost assuredly relieved pressure on the affected students. Although it appears that most of them found alternate child care, just knowing that their law school dean cared enough about their education to provide a backup surely was a gift not only to the students who accepted the offer but also to everyone who had to scramble to find child care. Imagine the sense of loyalty that these law students will have to their law school long after graduation because their dean sacrificed one day out of his schedule. And, news of this act of service will not hurt future recruiting efforts for the law school either.

We must be careful not to look for a return for every act of service. On the other hand, taking the time to consider how a small act of service might impact our clients can motivate us when we might otherwise pass on the opportunity.

Wisdom in Leadership

Sometimes leaders must not only declare what they are going to do, but also encourage or insist that those whom they lead do the same. Other times an act of leadership needs to stand on its own without any expectation that others will follow because making such a demand will be counterproductive. A wise leader thinks through which path is most appropriate.

Fershée did not ask other faculty members to make the same offer to the students. Fershée explained that his offer was right for him but was not necessarily right for others. There was wisdom in Fershée’s decision. Had he pressed others to follow his example, he could have turned an act that was an inspiration for the law school into one that caused resentment.

Fershée reminds us that leadership by example is often the best form of leadership. Thank you, Dean Fershée, for reminding us. Quite often, actions do speak louder than words.

John Hinton IV

Shareholder

John Hinton IV is a shareholder in Baker Donelson’s Atlanta office. His practice focuses on commercial litigation and construction law.

Linda Klein

Senior Managing Shareholder

Linda Klein is a past president of the ABA and senior managing shareholder at Baker Donelson. She is a frequent speaker on law practice, construction and higher education law.

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