The Leadership Skills of the 21st Century

Changing Times Require Law Schools to Lead with Educational Innovations

The World is Flat according to Tom Friedman and global competition requires everyone to become better, faster and cheaper.  Customers are more demanding and this reality applies to the legal marketplace.  A New York State Bar Association Report points out that lawyers are facing more and more competition.

“Aware of it or not, virtually every lawyer now operates in a globalized environment with increased competition. A solo practitioner in Elizabethtown, N.Y., can have a client with a legal problem involving a supplier in China. A law firm in Manhattan can send legal work to Bangalore as easily as it can to an associate on its 32nd floor. A solicitor from Toronto can represent a client with legal interests in Buffalo, just a few miles [kilometers] down the road.”

As pointed out in the article, Lawyers Face New Challenges from Global Competition written by Joel Stashenko in the New York Law Journal:

“Recent economic conditions have reduced and shifted the demand for many forms of legal services, forcing many corporate clients to explore cost reductions in a variety of areas, including services for outside legal counsel,” the (New York) task force found. “Law firms have, accordingly, reacted with downsizing, restructuring and the development of new practices. … In our view, the recession has simply accelerated and highlighted changes in the market for legal services and the means of their delivery. We expect these trends to continue, with increased experimentation in alternative fee arrangements and efforts by law firms to compete more effectively in an evolving marketplace.”

The future of the profession is at its best when lawyers use all their skills, vision, and creative thinking and leadership skills to help a client move successfully forward in their business and in the new and demanding legal compliance world.  In order to do this, lawyers must develop new ways of thinking, problem solving and must work across borders and boundaries.  What are these skills?  They are different from our traditional legal skills.  But, it is not an ‘either or’ situation it is an AND.  The new world requires traditional skill sets AND nontraditional skills.  Clients require great analytical skills and great creative problem solving skills; it is effective legal analysis and new ideas of entrepreneurship, leadership and business acumen; it is cross town relationships and cross border, cross cultural awareness. In my experience, here is the list of new skills.

  • Leadership
  • Analytical, innovative and creative thinking skills
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Multiple ways of communication, negotiations, conflict resolution and persuasion.
  • Collaboration, teamwork and networking
  • Cross cultural Awareness, empathy and EQ

This is the way of the future, the way of the 21st century lawyer and the way of the 21st century law school.  The global legal economic environment is radically changing and law schools need to lead the way with new educational ideas in this “new normal”.  We need to educate lawyers to think like lawyers, leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators and give them the skills to become world class client service providers. As pointed out by Phil Weiser, the Dean of the University of Colorado Law School:

“The upside of today’s New Normal is that law schools have the opportunity to develop a new generation of lawyers who are more purposeful than ever before about how to develop and navigate their careers. These graduates will be legal entrepreneurs. By that, I mean lawyers—whether working in government, nonprofits, law firms, consulting firms, or businesses—who take ownership of their career paths and develop the tool kit necessary to add value and succeed wherever they work. Developing legal entrepreneurs, however, requires a commitment to innovation and experimentation that until recently has not been traditionally associated with legal academia.”

Thank you very much,

Bob Cullen
General Counsel – Cullen Law Group
Adjunct Law Professor – Santa Clara Law School 

Challenging Lawyers to be Leaders

The Most Successful Lawyers Practice Law and Practice Leadership.

What makes some lawyers great?  They practice law and they practice leadership.  Successful lawyers have the qualities that distinguish them as great lawyers; in addition, they incorporate leadership skills in their practices to create opportunities, build relationships and create positive change for their clients, their organizations, and their communities. Leadership is the essential ingredient to an extraordinary career in law.  In short, exceptional lawyers think like lawyers and importantly, they also think like leaders. These conclusions come from the research performed for the book, The Leading Lawyer: A Guide to Practicing Law and Leadership and those I interviewed, including:

  • Leon Panetta – US Secretary of Defense
  • Rudy Giuliani – Retired Governor of New York City
  • California Supreme Court Justice Joyce Kennard
  • Ben W. Heineman – Distinguished Senior Fellow at Harvard Law School and Retired General Counsel of GE,

Th Marshall ImageWe teach concepts and skills at Santa Clara in our Leadership Program.  This site is used to coordinate my leadership and negotiation class. The students access this site to receive assignments and class information; and we publish class notes and papers. I am expanding this site and adding information about other law school courses, web sites and general leadership resources.  I also give seminars on leadership and negotiation skills; there is information about those services on the site as well.

Since starting the leadership class at Santa Clara, there have been many law schools that have started a program as well.  I list many of those classes and programs on this home page. I have been teaching at Santa Clara University Law School for 14 years now and Santa Clara has been offering the Leadership Class for 8 years. I have a few ideas on leadership and am looking for more. If you have thoughts, research or articles that might be interesting to discuss, please feel free to contact me at

Thank you very much,

Bob Cullen
General Counsel – Cullen Law Group
Adjunct Law Professor – Santa Clara Law School

Teaching Lawyers Header

A new leadership course at SCU School of Law is among the first of its kind.


Santa Clara University School of Law has created an innovative way for students to expand their education and become better members of their community. A class called Leadership for Lawyers is offered for the first time this semester, and it may be the only course of its kind at an American law school.

Leaders Image 1Traditionally, leadership curriculum is found in business, engineering, and government policy schools, but School of Law lecturer Bob Cullen says that it’s important for law students to be introduced to leadership concepts and learn how to become effective leaders. “Lawyers are asked to be on non-profit boards and serve in community groups,” Cullen says. “They are often community advocates. We, as lawyers, are moved naturally toward positions of leadership, so our critical and creative thinking skills are very important. I am hoping to give my students skills that are not encouraged or cultivated in traditional law classes. I think it’s very important for lawyers to know how to do everything, to have as many different types of skills as possible.”


In the fall of 2005, Cullen proposed a leadership class to School of Law Dean Donald Polden. At the time, Cullen was teaching a negotiation class. “There is a lot of crossover between leadership and negotiation,” Cullen says. “You need to have good problem-solving skills and be able to think critically. But in negotiation, you’re competitive, while leadership is collaborative.”

Article Quote 1Polden thought that a leadership class was a perfect fit for the law school. “Lawyers are abundant in leadership positions,” he says. “In political bodies, community support groups, and many other places. We were interested in developing our curriculum to look at how lawyers use leadership skills. We need to take a look at what law schools offer and what they should offer in this vein. Lawyers have an obligation to serve others, and we’re very interested in learning about the skills lawyers use and need to fulfill their ethical duties and responsibilities. By encouraging leadership, we’re making the law profession stronger.” Leadership training, Polden adds, is in line with SCU’s mission to train lawyers of “competence, conscience, and compassion.”

Polden says that Hurricane Katrina was also an impetus for offering a leadership class. The disaster, he explains, prompted the law education community to question how well students would be prepared to assist their communities if a crisis occurred. “When there is a crisis and lack of direction, people often look to lawyers and judges for direction,” Polden says. “They have the education, the potential, and the skill sets to be great leaders, but they need to have the willingness to exercise those leadership skills.”

Cullen, who is a mediator and lawyer at Cullen Group, a real estate and development negotiation firm, specializes in negotiation and mediation strategy and has been interested in leadership issues for about 15 years. He is the founding president of the San Jose Leadership Council (, a non-profit organization that provides training programs to encourage leadership and community involvement.


Cullen worked with Barry Posner, dean of the SCU School of Business, in developing the Leadership for Lawyers class. Posner’s well-known book, The Leadership Challenge, is the primary text the class is using. Posner has been studying leadership since 1983 when he and Jim Kouzes began their “personal best” research project, in which they surveyed thousands of people to pinpoint specific skills that were used in leadership positions. The survey included questions such as, “How did you foster cooperation and collaboration among those whose support you needed?” and “How did you build a sense of enthusiasm and excitement for this project?” Despite differences in people’s individual stories, Kouzes and Posner found similar patterns of behavior that they used to create a leadership model, called the “Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership,” which provides the basis for the students’ leadership development training. It illustrates specific things that people did to successfully lead others, such as inspiring a shared vision, enabling others to act, and setting an example for others to follow.

Leaders Image 2“The leadership training and development is based on the Leadership Challenge,” Cullen says. “We’ll use case studies and guest speakers to illustrate the ways the principles apply specifically to law.”

For example, to study Posner’s “Modeling the Way” principle, the class will look at Gandhi’s work as a lawyer and how he created change. For the “Challenging the Process” principle, the class will learn about Thurgood Marshall’s use of the court system to challenge the status quo.

Cullen also worked with Kirk Hanson, executive director of SCU’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, to gain insight into the ethical issues that surround leadership.

“Lawyers and leaders are both faced with difficult decisions,” Cullen says. “They both deal with standard ethical dilemmas.”

Polden stresses that the links between the law, ethics, and leadership are important. “Education can sometimes be restrictive if we only teach what the law says,” explains Polden. “But we educate our students to know the difference between what is right and what is legal. It takes tremendous leadership for lawyers to represent poor, marginalized, or unpopular clients, to able to stand up and say, ‘What I’m doing is right.’”


By collaborating with various people to develop the leadership class, Cullen says, he has “created something unique that has benefited from the wide variety of educational expertise here at SCU. It is a great example of the creative energy that can occur when our schools at SCU work together.”

Article Quote 2Teamwork is also very important for the 25 students who are currently enrolled in Leadership for Lawyers. Each week, one class member will present a summary of that week’s reading and lead the others in a discussion of the main themes. The students also submit their notes to be posted on the class’s Web site ( “Lawyers need to work more collaboratively than they do,” Cullen says. “To move down the road from being just critical thinkers to creative problem-solvers who create positive change.”

Barry Posner says that the integrative aspect of a leadership class is one of its most important attributes. “In law school, like medical school, the focus is on learning the skills to get the job done,” he says. “But in the end, it’s all about working with other people to make things happen. Many leaders are ordinary people. Ordinary people can do extraordinary things.”

Niti Gupta, a third-year law student, thinks leadership training is a natural, and necessary, extension of her other classes. “In law, you’re working for the community,” she says. “You’re an advocate for one person or many people, and this class helps you to see the potential for that.”

Another benefit of the class, Gupta says, is that it’s different from her other courses. “The course is very refreshing,” she says. “We’re looking at the breadth of law and its real-world applications. Law intersects every facet of society, and lawyers often become leaders. In law school, generally, we learn how to become cogs in the machine. This class is integrative.”


Although the course is still new, Cullen hopes that it will be an important part of law curriculum in the future. “SCU School of Law is leading the way in this area of education for its students,” Cullen says. “It is very much consistent with the mission of the law school, which is to direct our students to a higher purpose, to provide them with an ethical prospective of contributing to the legal system in which they will work and in the communities in which they live. We need to redefine the lawyer as being more than just an advocate for their client, but also an advocate for their larger community.”

Leaders Image 3Posner agrees that leadership training should continue, and expand, not only in law schools but in many different types of programs. “If you understand the impact that law and lawyers have on our society, it seems almost criminal that we don’t offer leadership training as part of a legal education,” he says. “Leadership isn’t the responsibility of some hero or famous person; it’s everyone’s responsibility. Offering this first class opens the possibility for more to follow. We’re very excited about that.”

Dean Polden says he hopes to use the course as a platform to develop several things. “We want to recognize leadership in our students,” he says. “And to build on the body of knowledge that already exists, to really look at leadership skills that lawyers possess and apply in their careers.” Polden says he wants to develop more curricular and co-curricular programs that focus on leaders and leadership training. “There is a rich vein of information available about leadership,” he says. “But not much that is specific to law. We are building and expanding on what’s already out there so that we can prepare our students for the ethical and moral responsibilities they will take on in their professions and lives.”

KERI MODRALL is a freelance writer living in the San Francisco Bay area.