Goal IX Newsletter

Winter 2000, Volume 6, Number 1

Developing Leadership Skills: Becoming a Young Apprentice by: Jason M. Murray

murray.jpgAs a practical matter, minorities in the legal profession must develop leadership skills in the same manner that non-minority lawyers develop such skills. Leadership skills in our profession can only be obtained by following the example of extraordinary individuals who have devoted their lives to the art of practicing law. In other words, to develop as a lawyer and as a leader in the profession, become the young apprentice of someone who has mastered the legal art.

Historically, an apprentice was a person who agreed to be legally bound to work for an employer for a specified time in exchange for the opportunity to learn the employer’s craft, trade, or profession. Only a skilled laborer in the law can teach the skills necessary for becoming a successful lawyer. Today, young lawyers do not have the obligation of an apprenticeship contract. If, however, a young lawyer voluntarily agrees to form a "binding" apprenticeship with a skilled master of the profession, they can create regular training opportunities. The close interaction between the young lawyer and the seasoned practitioner would enable the young lawyer to observe, assist, and imitate a senior lawyer and learn how to practice law.

When seeking a mentor, young lawyers should look for someone who has the proven ability to balance the demands of developing superior legal skills, serving the needs of clients, serving the needs of the profession, and serving the needs of the community. In the private sector, a mentor should also demonstrate the ability to attract and develop business. Moreover, the abilities and characteristics of a good mentor will naturally combine with that person’s sincere desire to train young lawyers. The selection of a good mentor or teacher is instrumental to the development of leadership skills. Young lawyers must select someone they can follow in order to learn how to lead. All good leaders in the legal profession were once good followers.

As an apprentice or protégé, remember that you cannot follow your mentor from afar and learn the skills essential to leadership. Rather, you must become an avid follower, eager to learn and willing to serve. You must display enthusiasm about your work and assertiveness about taking advantage of learning opportunities. Whether you wish to reach the leadership ranks in law firms, corporations, government offices, bar organizations, or civic groups, the same principle applies.

leaderquote.jpg (13994 bytes)I have had the fortunate experience of learning from extraordinary mentors, and now, I too serve as a mentor to others. When I graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1991, I sought to further my understanding of the legal system by becoming an apprentice of the Honorable Joseph W. Hatchett, United States Circuit Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. During my year as a judicial clerk for Judge Hatchett, I had the privilege of working on several significant voting and civil rights cases, which the press and the media closely followed. For example, Judge Hatchett and I, as his judicial clerk, addressed the legal emergency presented by the forceful repatriation of Haitian refugees seeking political asylum. We also dealt with the voting rights crisis resulting from Florida’s need for redistricting and reapportionment after the 1990 census.

My tenure with Judge Hatchett provided me the opportunity to work on many important legal cases under the tutelage of one of Florida’s greatest jurists. The skills that I learned from my apprenticeship with Judge Hatchett gave me an excellent base of knowledge and analytical skills that paved the road for me to immediately begin working at one of the top law firms in the nation.

As an African-American male, I believe that I was very fortunate to find a prominent African-American jurist who was willing to take me on as a young apprentice. It is important to note, however, that following my judicial clerkship several other extraordinary individuals have served as my mentors and many of these individuals were non-minority attorneys. Great mentors—those who will help you develop the skills necessary to become a skilled attorney and effective leader—come in many different shapes, colors, and sizes. I have learned leadership skills from following the direction of each of my mentors and enthusiastically taking advantage of learning opportunities. Although I have learned their leadership skills and techniques, I am ever mindful that as a leader, I must have my own vision and develop new ideas.

Recently, the members of my firm voted to make me the youngest shareholder of Carlton Fields. In this new capacity, I have continued to practice in the area of general commercial litigation in state and federal courts, including franchise, intellectual property, securities, insurance, and real property matters. I frequently delegate work and supervise less-experienced attorneys in my practice. During time-sensitive client emergencies, I have assembled legal teams to ensure that we meet the client’s needs. My knowledge of the law and courage of conviction has enabled me to inspire my assembled teams of associates, legal assistants, and support staff to achieve great results in very short periods of time. I expect my teams to perform only as well as the example I set.

Now that I have the responsibilities of a shareholder, I embrace the opportunity to serve as a mentor. In fact, two young women lawyers in my office officially requested that I serve as their mentor in my firm’s mentor program, and unofficially several young lawyers at the firm have informed me that they view me as their mentor. As a mentor, I encourage, support, and help train the young lawyers of my firm in achieving their full potential.

Currently, I am president-elect of the Black Lawyers Association, Inc., of Dade County, taking office July 1, 2000. I am also a member of the Board of Directors for the Dade County Bar Association and recently completed my term on that organization’s executive Committee. In addition, I serve on various committees for many bar organizations. I have assumed these leadership roles only after observing, following, and assisting others in order to learn the management skills, interpersonal skills, and communication skills that are necessary for bar leadership.

Through the intimacy of working closely with leaders, young lawyers develop leadership skills that law schools do not teach. These skills emphasize the importance of taking a proprietary or ownership interest in the work that you do. Yet, young lawyers must also learn how to place into proper context the work they perform on a project. Regardless of whether the project involves work on a case or work on a bar organization committee, a mentor can help a young lawyer understand the overall strategies and see the "big picture." Such leaders realize the importance of the apprenticeship process because they, themselves, are still being mentored and tutored.

I am still learning leadership skills from the mentors that I have chosen. My experiences have led me to this conclusion: To be a leader in the legal profession you must first choose someone to follow. Leadership skills can only be developed through the learning intimacy of working closely with extraordinary individuals who have devoted themselves to practicing law and mastering the legal art. These skilled masters know the techniques for continuing to develop greater legal skills while serving clients, the profession, and the community. A good mentor and role model who sits at the top of the legal profession serves as a beacon of light, helping to guide young lawyers up the path to leadership.

Jason M. Murray is a shareholder with Carlton, Fields, Ward, Emmanuel, Smith & Cutler, P.A. in Miami, FL.

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