If you’ve ever won a Leadership in Law award, please turn the page. This column isn’t for you, the 240 people we’ve honored over the course of a decade. No; this one’s for the noble 600 or so (my unofficial count) who were nominated but never got their minute on the stage.
The judging process is always profoundly humbling, but it isn’t always pretty. Every year, I love the final group of 24, but over the course of a decade, a lot of highly distinguished contenders who could have been on the dais have dropped off the list.
People like you.
Want to know how close you came? Mighty close, my friend. Want to know what knocked you out of contention?
It wasn’t your achievement as a lawyer. Let’s face it: you’re fabulous.
It wasn’t, usually, your community involvement, though a few of you did think you could skate by on the strength of your kid’s soccer team. (You know who you are.)
So what’s left?
Mentoring. Year after year for 10 years in a row now, that’s been the category with the widest variation, and that means it’s the category that puts the leaders in Leadership.
Any of this sound familiar?
-“I try to be a mentor by setting an example of hard work and high ethical standards.” Your hard work and high ethical standards are what got you where you are today. They are qualities worth emulating. But they aren’t mentoring.
-“My door is always open to the younger lawyers in my firm.” This is mentoring of a sort, sure, but it’s essentially staff development. And staff development is part of your job. And when it comes to your job, we’ve already established that you’re fabulous. You don’t get double credit for it.
-“I started a ______ Day event at our firm.” [Career Day, Law Day, Bring-Your-Kids-to-Work Day, you fill in the blank.] One-and-done efforts can do a lot of good, exposing young people to options they never knew they had. But they’re no substitute for sustained, repetitive, one-on-one interaction that builds a relationship over time.
You can do better. Pair yourself and your partners with law students, college kids, high schoolers or even grade-schoolers for a semester, a year or a ’til-commencement commitment. Adopt a mentoring program like b4 Students (or its better-known parent, Big Brothers/Big Sisters), LawLinks or College Bound. Coach the high school’s mock trial team. Lead a Scout troop full of somebody else’s children. Be generous with your time, talent and treasure.
And one more thing: we both know you soured on the whole Leadership in Law thing after we blundered into leaving you off the list. So don’t do it for the sake of some dust-catcher you don’t believe in anyway.
Do it because, trophy or no trophy, you really are a leader in the law.