D.C. Bar Launches Leadership Academy to Identify, Train Potential Leaders
By Kathryn Alfisi
Volunteers have always been essential to the D.C. Bar, assuming leadership roles in various committees, task forces, and working groups, but each year volunteers are appointed and reappointed to these positions without any methods for ensuring high levels of leadership.
This will change starting in March 2013 with the introduction of the D.C. Bar Leadership Academy, the official goal of which is “to identify, inspire, and educate D.C. Bar members to be leaders of the Bar and to encourage them to use their leadership skills in professional settings, local bar associations, and community organizations.”
“The program has two interrelated goals: to identify potential leaders of the Bar and of the larger community and to develop skills and techniques that we think are best associated with effective leaders,” says D.C. Bar past president Philip Lacovara, senior counsel at the New York City office of Mayer Brown LLP and chair of the Bar’s Leadership Development Committee (LDC). “We think the best Bar leaders will have these skills, and that people who have these skills can become the best Bar and community leaders. . . . We expect this to be a useful training ground and observation mechanism to get an enlarged pool of truly well-qualified people for leadership positions at the Bar.”
D.C. Bar President Tom Williamson, senior counsel at Covington & Burling LLP, also has high expectations for the academy.
“The D.C. Bar Leadership Academy is one of the most exciting and innovative initiatives that will be coming to fruition during the current fiscal year. We view the initiative as an opportunity to train lawyers who are seeking to become Bar leaders, as well as to enhance the skills of lawyers who have already demonstrated leadership potential. We expect that, as classes go through the academy, we will be able to tap the graduates to serve in the multifaceted leadership structure of the Bar.”
Culture of Leadership
The leadership endeavor began in late 2009 when NAACP general counsel Kim Keenan was Bar president. A Leadership Task Force was created to make recommendations to the D.C. Bar Board of Governors on how to improve the quality and quantity of leadership activities within the Bar. Among the task force’s recommendations, as approved by the Board of Governors, was the creation of the LDC.
In her May 2010 “From the President” column, Keenan wrote that the committee was created “to identify and recruit potential leaders for the range of positions within the Bar. Another recommendation is to offer leadership skills training for leaders throughout the Bar and for voluntary bar association leaders.”
“What the Bar realized is that just because somebody is a great lawyer, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have great leadership skills. Whether or not you’re on the Board of Governors or involved in Sections, leadership skills are really important within the Bar because you’re dealing with a volunteer group of board members and section members,” says Annamaria Steward, associate dean of students at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law and one of the members of the LDC.
From fall 2010 to spring 2011 the LDC held a series of meetings and ultimately decided to focus on three priority areas: the recruitment and training of potential leaders, the orientation and ongoing training of existing D.C. Bar volunteer leaders, and the development and strengthening of the Bar’s sections leadership. The LDC then created three subcommittees to address these priority areas.
The Potential Leaders Subcommittee was charged with designing and implementing a program to recruit and train potential leaders, the D.C. Bar Leaders Subcommittee was tasked to develop a comprehensive curriculum to orient and train newly elected and appointed Bar leaders, and the Section Leaders Subcommittee was assigned to develop mechanisms to strengthen volunteer leadership in the Bar’s sections.
In December 2011 the LDC approved the curriculum, structure, and budget for the Leadership Academy as proposed by the Potential Leaders Subcommittee. Subsequently, the Board of Governors approved the academy’s budget in April 2012 with its adoption of the Bar’s overall budget for fiscal year 2012–2013. In June 2012 the Leadership Academy was officially created.
Multiple, Long–Term Benefits
In its report presented at the Board of Governors’ June meeting, the LDC gives insight into why the Leadership Academy was created. The LDC states that the academy would help “to address the current challenges that the Bar faces in developing effective volunteer leaders and in dealing with ineffective leaders.” The LDC further explains that “[b]y teaching the knowledge and skills necessary for successful Bar leadership and by evaluating the leadership potential of the program participants …, the Bar would be able to create a strong pool of potential candidates for leadership positions.”
By training with the academy, Lacovara says potential and existing leaders will have a better understanding of how they can effectively serve the Bar.
“What we’ve found is that while the Bar has a wonderful array of people who have served in various leadership roles, there have been some problems with the personality approaches that people bring to these positions,” Lacovara explains. “What we’re trying to do is to make sure that people who are good candidates for Bar leadership positions have an understanding of Bar policies as well as the collegial nature of a volunteer organization like the D.C. Bar, which is different from a hierarchical environment in which many lawyers may usually function. We want to make sure we have lawyers who are adequately trained in Bar policy, Bar procedures, and also in the personality skills and traits of effective leaders in a volunteer organization.”
Attorneys who attend the academy also stand to gain leadership skills they can apply outside the Bar. “The idea is that the skills they will learn will also benefit them within their practice areas; it’ll add value across the board. You’re getting skills that you can use not only in your practice area and your place of employment, but also within any volunteer organization you participate in,” says Steward, chair of the LDC’s Potential Leaders Subcommittee.
D.C. Bar past president and Banner & Witcoff, Ltd. principal shareholder Darrell G. Mottley, who worked on the LDC while serving as the Bar’s president-elect and president, says it’s important for attorneys to possess leadership skills, especially as they advance in their careers and have to manage people and multiple projects.
“What you learn at the academy is a skill set that you’re more likely to develop in business school, not law school,” Mottley says. These skills also will be useful to new Bar volunteers who are not used to working in a more public environment and dealing with multiple stakeholders, he adds.
The academy’s curriculum consists of three full-day sessions at the D.C. Bar headquarters beginning March 2013. Participants also will volunteer with the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program’s Advice and Referral Clinic.
In creating the academy’s curriculum and structure, the Potential Leaders Subcommittee relied on input from D.C. Bar Chief Executive Officer Katherine A. Mazzaferri and Chief Programs Officer Cynthia D. Hill about the attributes of former successful Bar leaders. The subcommittee then identified the specific knowledge, skills, and traits of successful Bar leaders and determined how these could be taught or observed in a program setting.
“We brainstormed on these issues and then worked backwards, asking, if these are our goals and these are the skills we think leaders should have, how are we going to transfer them to our participants?” Steward says. “We decided that a volunteer in an entry–level position at the D.C. Bar should have knowledge, skills, and traits, and a volunteer at a high–level position should have additional knowledge, skills, and traits, and then we looked at how to help people learn these things.”
Subcommittee members, in drafting the curriculum, also designed the sessions to be interactive, consistent with adult learning theory, and allow faculty and staff to see the participants in action.
In addition to drafting the academy’s curriculum, the subcommittee was tasked to identify potential faculty members. “We started with the idea that even though you may be a phenomenal leader, you may not know how to teach others to be a phenomenal leader,” Steward says.
After the subcommittee identified a number of potential faculty candidates, the D.C. Bar sent out a Request for Proposal this past April, eventually choosing Leadership Outfitters, which has worked with other bar associations, and Paul Meyer of Tecker International, who has worked with the Bar on its strategic plan and with the Leadership Initiative Task Force.
The curriculum begins with an overview of the D.C. Bar, including its mission and strategic plan. The sessions will cover topics such as lessons learned in leadership roles, communication skills and styles, teamwork, how to conduct effective meetings, problem solving and strategic thinking, civility and professionalism, pro bono service, and application of leadership skills.
Participants will be given assignments before each session and will also take several self-assessment mechanisms to allow faculty and staff to learn more about the participants and to determine small groups based on personality types and leadership styles.
“Participants can learn more about themselves, while faculty and staff can learn more about the participants and gauge whether or not a participant was interested in the self-assessment and whether or not he or she can take criticism and feedback,” Steward says.
Approximately 30 people will be selected for the Leadership Academy’s inaugural program through an application process that begins in November.
Attorneys interested in attending the academy need to submit an application that includes a current résumé; a typed statement of no more than 500 words explaining why the applicant believes he or she should be selected, why the applicant wants to participate in the academy, and what the applicant hopes to gain from his or her participation; and two references. The application form is in PDF format for applicants to fill out, save, and submit electronically along with the required attachments.
“It’s extensive enough to make sure that people who are interested in attending are serious about making a commitment, and extensive enough to allow us to make an informed judgment on whether or not the applicants are likely to be effective and appropriate participants, but we didn’t want to make the application process so daunting that it would discourage people,” Lacovara says.
Lacovara and Steward also stress that diversity is an important part of the academy, adding that they want to see representatives from different practice areas and from large firms, small firms, government agencies, and other practice settings, as well as diversity in terms of gender and ethnicity.
“We tried to structure the program so that we could be inclusive not only in terms of the nature of the law practices that applicants are currently involved in, but also to pursue the Bar’s general interest in diversity. The issue of diversity and balance will be one of the factors that enter into the final selection of applicants who will be asked to attend the program,” Lacovara says.
The tuition for applicants accepted into the program will be $1,200, with reduced fees available based on demonstrated need. The LDC put a great deal of thought into whether there should be a fee for the program, and if so, how much.
“We really worked hard at keeping the cost down as much as possible, but there’s serious value in it and we want people to invest in it and participate fully in it,” Steward says. “I think this is going to be amazing; I think we’re going to create a core of leaders that is going to benefit the Bar, voluntary bars, and the community in general.”
For more information on the D.C. Bar Leadership Academy and how to apply, contact Rebecca Gilliam at 202-737-4700, ext. 3234, or email@example.com.
Leadership Academy 2013 Inaugural Class
Session 1: March 1, 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
Session 2: March 22, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.
Session 3: April 12, 9 a.m.–5:15 p.m.
All classes will be held at the D.C. Bar.
Reach D.C. Bar staff writer Kathryn Alfisi at firstname.lastname@example.org.