Law \ Legal


Yet, change is in the air . . . personally, I am excited to see how the next chapter of my life reads [and] I look forward to handing off the baton and heading for the mountains.

Dean Douglas Blaze

University of Tennessee College of Law

As I approach retirement after nearly three decades at UT Law, I have been thinking about what I learned and what has meant the most to me. The law school has been a very special place for a long time. Our strong sense of community, our shared mission to educate future lawyers effectively and comprehensively, and our commitment to serve and improve our profession and community sets us apart. But how and why? How has the law school managed to preserve those attributes for so long?

For me the answer is that the law school enjoys a special culture of leadership. But not leadership vested in a single leader or series of leaders. Instead, a culture of leadership that is a process, not a position. A leadership process in which all the faculty are fully engaged. And, most important, a culture grounded in a special kind of leadership – servant-leadership.  

The concept of servant-leadership has been around for a long time, but it received renewed attention through an essay by Robert Greenleaf published in 1970 [1]. According to Greenleaf, a servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop, perform, and achieve their potential. Servant-leaders, as reflected in the word order, are servants first and leaders second. Their service is how they lead.

When I think of my colleagues over the years – people like Dick Wirtz, Jerry Black, Carol Parker, and Tom Galligan – I recognize several shared characteristics.  

First, they cared and displayed a kindness and concern for their colleagues, students, staff, and clients.  Each of them truly valued all members of the law school community. 

Second, each of them promoted the law school and others, not themselves. Each of them had egos to be sure, but their egos did not get in the way of their leadership. Their egos were channeled into institutional achievement and accomplishment and recognition of the achievement and accomplishments of others.  

Third, each of them was trusted fully. They were, in their own individual way, authentic and dependable. They had everyone’s back and everyone knew that they did.    

Fourth, they were rarely certain and readily shared their uncertainty. So, they willingly listened and truly wanted to learn from others. Their approach helped them better understand what was needed and how to achieve it.

But most important, their primary goal was to make the law school the very best it could be. That goal and the tone it set – shared by so many of their faculty colleagues, staff, and even students – helped create and maintain a culture of servant-leadership. They helped create an environment of mutual acceptance and respect. I have been blessed to be part of it.

Yet, change is in the air. Several senior faculty and staff are retiring. Personally, I am excited to see how the next chapter of my life reads. I look forward to handing off the baton and heading for the mountains.

But most of all, I am excited about the future of the institution that means so much to me. All of the changes provide new challenges and fresh opportunities. I am confident the faculty will meet the challenges effectively and take full advantage of the opportunities. As I look around at my colleagues, I know the shared culture of servant-leadership will continue. The future is very bright. And it will be fun to watch.

[1] Robert K. Greenleaf, The Servant as Leader (1970).

But if you use [mentorship] relationships to unselfishly engage in reflection and related professional and personal growth, you will experience positive change and growth, even if you cannot immediately see it in yourself.

Will Salisbury

University of Tennessee College of Law, Class of 2022

As someone about to graduate, I never expected to write a blog article for The University of Tennessee College of Law. In fact, I wasn’t planning on putting these words to paper at all, until I was prompted to do so during a weekly mentoring meeting. My mentor had earlier suggested that I share some of what I had learned in law school about leadership in a blog post.  But I was unsure of what I had to say and kept putting off the task of thinking through my ideas.

In that recent weekly meeting, however, I came to know what I needed to write. I was talking with my mentor about how impactful our mentor-mentee relationship had been and how grateful I was that we had started that relationship two years prior. “Will!” my mentor exclaimed, “That’s what you need to write about!” And so, after some further prompting, I am taking the opportunity to explain how unexpected mentorship can positively impact all aspects of a person’s life.

The spring semester of my 1L year, I was struggling. Between a full course load, mock trial, and looking for clerkships in another state, I was spent. I couldn’t get anyone to return my phone calls for positions, and I wanted to work at the Securities and Exchange Commission. This set of circumstances led me to contact Professor Joan Heminway, a business law professor at the UT College of Law, for a one-time meeting. 

Law professors are busy, engaged people with responsibilities for teaching, scholarship, and service. Professor Heminway very easily could have given me my advice that day and then turned me away. Instead, recognizing my struggle, she suggested that we make our one-time meeting into a weekly occurrence. For two years, we have continued our weekly meetings, and there are a variety of things that I have learned from our ongoing mentor-mentee relationship. I summarize a few of the lessons I have learned below.

(1) Ongoing reflection facilitates change.

I can tell you that I am not the same person I was two years ago. My relationships, my outlook, my maturity, and my mindset have all changed from when I was a 1L. Every meeting that we had together, I was analyzing who I was, the problems I was having, where I wanted to be, and how I wanted to get there. I learned to look at the positives of the situation, rather than looking at only the negatives. By having an outside person make comments, critiques, and criticisms, I was able to go much farther with my reflections than I would have had alone. But none of this would have been possible until I undertook reflection not only in the presence of my mentor, but also by myself. To change for the better, I had to identify where I wanted to be.

(2) Mentorship should be balanced with professional and personal growth.

You cannot place the burden of your change entirely on your mentor. This may seem self-explanatory, but you cannot rely on a mentor to make the change that you want to see in yourself. Complaining about your problems will not remove those problems for your life. Professional growth can only be accomplished by honing your self-evaluation and problem-solving skills. Personal growth can only be accomplished by necessitating change in your life. These changes can only be accomplished by the individual mentee; your mentors cannot effectuate that change for you.  Effectuating change can only come from within, and mentors can help you identify changes necessary to the encouragement of that growth.

(3) Others see your growth.

A person is steeped in their own circumstances. As a result, it is very hard for that person to see their own personal growth. I compare it to going to the gym. When you go to the gym trying to lose weight, you take a picture on the very first day to help document your journey. That way, in a couple of months, when you take another picture, you can see your progress—how you look in comparison to that first day. Otherwise, the changes are unlikely to be fully seen. It is the same with personal growth. If you don’t feel like you’ve changed, that is completely okay. While it may be hard for you to see, others can see it (and may even point it out to you). Regardless, one day, you will understand that the lessons that you have learned and how they have shaped you in the person you are today.

(4) Don’t be selfish.

Everyone has their own issues, stressors, problems, tragedies, and entire lives that are separate from your own. As a society, it is very easy for us to get wrapped up into our own problems (especially through the difficulties of law school) and look to people for what they can do to help us. As others pour into you, don’t make it all about you. Professionals who mentor you are people too.  Just as mentors pour into you, you should do your best to pour into them. Talk about hobbies, movies, family, friends, and make it so that your goal is to find out more about them. Wisdom can come from all different types of places, and the more you act unselfishly, the more it makes people want to work with you. By talking to others and forming those deeper relationships, you end up helping yourself.

(5) Different seasons, different mentorship.

Mentors don’t have to (and often don’t) last forever and that’s okay. By changing geographic locations, employers, and people that surround you, you will naturally be drawn to other people and meet other people who will eventually become your mentors. Those people will bring different life experiences, different circumstances, and different wisdom to you. It is up to you to determine who your mentors will be and what you will get from each mentorship. But don’t forget the mentors who got you where you are! Those people shaped the person and professional that you have become, and as you get different mentors, going back to talk to prior mentors can be rewarding.

As I think about these different kinds of lessons that I have learned throughout my time at the UT College of Law, I have come to understand that I could not have gotten to where I am today without my mentors. They have pushed me to be better—to strive for more—and have given me countless pieces of advice. I encourage everyone to find someone who can be a mentor to them and to always be on the lookout for opportunities to connect with people who will push them to be more. You can never fully anticipate what you will gain when you enter into mentoring relationships. But if you use those relationships to unselfishly engage in reflection and related professional and personal growth, you will experience positive change and growth, even if you cannot immediately see it in yourself.