Law \ Legal



Ultimately, I am continuing to learn the importance of creating opportunities beyond those given to me. And once I am awarded those opportunities, I will hold the door open for others, just like others have held the door open for me.

Ryan Jay McElhose

University of Tennessee College of Law, Class of 2023

When I was asked to contribute to the Leading as Lawyers blog, I said I would be open to the idea. Later in the day, however, in relating the exchange, I had a good laugh in a session with my therapist. I have never considered myself to be a leader on campus. Mainly, I go to class and return home. I am only active in one student organization. I am on no journals. I have never made the Dean’s List. And I am slowly recovering from my grades from my first semester of law school. 

How did my first semester of law school turn out, you ask? Recall, if you will, that scene from Mean Girls where Regina George found out that Cady Heron indeed was not consistently feeding Regina Swedish weight loss bars but rather Kälteen bars to “sabotage her.” Let’s just say that Regina and I shared similar reactions when I had access to my first semester grades. 

The process of recovery is not only academic but, in my experience, very personal. For me, it was especially difficult to bounce back while reading that law professors from peer institutions across the country, such as Georgetown Law and the University of Pennsylvania, made inflammatory remarks about Black law students and academic achievement. Law school, as it stands, offers a new and more challenging way to think, write, read, and reason. It is hard enough to navigate the first year of law school under the best of circumstances; but it is even harder when some educators and legal professionals actually expect you to achieve mediocre results not because of the rigor of the academic program but because of your race. 

During this time, I also needed to apply for a summer legal internship position. I was fully aware that my GPA was not going to bring all the firms to the yard, so I tasked myself with creating opportunities beyond those typically sought by first-year law students. I knew in that moment that I needed to bet on myself. So, I did. I called law firms across the country, perused opportunities through LinkedIn, sent cold emails, and assiduously applied for 79 positions from coast to coast. As a result, I had eight interviews and landed four offers: two from small law firms, one from a judicial program, and one from a governmental agency with offices in Colorado, Iowa, and Nevada. Ultimately, I had a formative summer experience as a legal intern at Parrish Kruidenier Dunn Gentry Brown Bergmann & Messamer LLP– a criminal defense and civil rights litigation firm in uptown Des Moines, Iowa. I also began building my own legal network through LinkedIn, which contributed to securing my 2L summer internship at the Federal Public Defender’s Office of the Northern District of Texas in Dallas, Texas! Even though I had the perfect 1L summer experience, I was also aware that I have a limited legal network that I want to expand for myself and for the Black law students who come after me. 

As a result, while in Des Moines, I created The University of Tennessee College of Law Black Alumni Association. The objective of this group is to provide internal and external legal resources, networking channels, mentorship, and opportunities to current Black students as well as graduates of the College of Law. Why is it important to create an alumni association for Black law students and graduates? According to the American Bar Association, Black lawyers make up less than 5% of the legal community[1] and that number has not increased since 2011.[2] The number actually decreased in 2021.[3] To date, the College of Law Black Alumni Association has over 50 members. We are making plans to support law students and graduates, and we have already hosted a panel discussion at the College of Law about the criminal legal system, stemming from a children’s book written by alumna Jatrean Sanders (2009) titled Today Was Not The Same. This panel featured alumni of the College of Law, including: the Chief Public Defender of Nashville, Martesha Johnson (2008); the Director of the City of Knoxville Office of Community Safety, LaKenya Middlebrook (2006); and Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner (2002). 

Law school is academically challenging. I like to remind myself of that fact, alongside the other lessons, so I do not get caught up falling victim to my success. I have realized that a lot of my stress is the result of good decisions I have made in life. I also remind myself in times of stress that, at one point in my life, I prayed to be in this very position. It is a sobering reminder that I am currently and actively living in my prayers. 

While reading blogs from across the country that posit that law school does not teach students how to be effective lawyers, I have learned the value of balancing bar prep courses, thought-provoking seminars, and a host of practical coursework offered at the College of Law that will shape me as an asset to the workforce. Courses that I especially value include: Advanced Legal Research, Trial Practice, Advanced Appellate Advocacy, Law Office Technology, and one of our many legal clinics. I am challenging myself to engage in courses taught by professors with different scholarship and ideologies. I am refining my skills, too, so that I can have robust conversations in which I confront an issue rather than criticizing the person.  I am forcing myself to no longer sit in the back of the classroom but to instead sit in the front with something to say! I am celebrating my appointment as a Graduate Research Assistant with the Division of Diversity and Engagement. I am throwing my hat into the academic writing world, too. The paper that I wrote to fulfill my expository writing requirement for graduation has been selected for publication in a legal academic journal. I am learning that some of my peers may actually see me as a leader because of how I show up for others, even as I continue to try to figure out how to best show up for myself. Ultimately, I am continuing to learn the importance of creating opportunities beyond those given to me. And once I am awarded those opportunities, I will hold the door open for others, just like others have held the door open for me. 






Through mindful collegiality, Ubuntu, civility, and other conduct reinforcing inclusion, a lawyer-leader can motivate action and loyalty in and outside their law practice.

Joan MacLeod Heminway

Interim Director of the Institute for Professional Leadership

Rick Rose Distinguished Professor of Law

University of Tennessee College of Law

The way a person expresses an idea can be important to its acceptance.  This is a simple maxim that is sometimes given short shrift in leadership.  A successful leader has and expresses a vision for their team and the purposes it serves that motivates action and loyalty.  As a result, effective communication is so important to leadership, in and outside the legal profession.  How many of us, for example, have watched a putative thought leader lose their audience because they have failed to communicate sufficiently—or at all—at a key juncture? Worse yet, how many of us have witnessed a leader lose momentum or a following because of the way a significant message was conveyed?

In law practice, we often talk about the need for and benefits of collegiality.  Collegial behavior does not require giving up one’s viewpoint or pretending to agree with others.  It requires cooperative collaboration or friendliness in completing required tasks and, ultimately, a sharing of power and authority.  Collegiality therefore necessitates communicating disagreement considerately and with sensitivity to the “repeat player” nature of many working relationships  (which is not to say that one should behave differently—more poorly—in one-time contacts or cabined or short-term relationships . . . ).

I recently was introduced to Ubuntu, a term coopted from the Zulu and Xhola languages that is grounded in sub-Saharan African moral philosophy described in the following way in the abstract of an 2010 academic article: “According to our African moral theory, actions are right roughly insofar as they are a matter of living harmoniously with others or honoring communal relationships.”  The word acknowledges and encourages consistent recognition of interpersonal human connectedness.  Blog posts here and here define and describe it in context. 

Collegiality and Ubuntu both set the stage for civil discourse—which is important to leadership in and outside the legal profession. Online educational resources published by the U.S. federal courts include a webpage with many helpful strategies, tactics, and tips for engaging in civil discourse.  A number relate to my overall theme in this post—that, as leaders, we should pay more attention to the way we deliver messages and engage in messaging, colloquy, and debate.  For example, the federal courts webpage guidance specifically asks and responds to the question: “What are you doing to create a welcoming environment for differing opinions?” One related tip: “Don’t embarrass yourself or disrespect others by making demeaning or inappropriate comments, facial expressions, or gestures. No eye rolling, sighing, or checking out of the conversation.”  Student-developed suggestions on the webpage include: “Moderate your tone, so that you don’t sound aggressive.”

On this last point, it is important to note that bullying behaviors of any kind are inconsistent with collegiality, Ubuntu, and civility.  Bullying behaviors (e.g., threats, hostile physical postures, demeaning and belittling communication or actions) are considerable problems in and outside the legal profession in the United States.  They disrupt teamwork by their nature, creating or affirming power hierarchies that may suppress discourse altogether—or lead to unproductive shouting matches.  To communicate and lead effectively, one must exemplify norms of collegiality, Ubuntu, and civility through one’s own actions and confront bullying and other conduct norms (including arrogance) that diverge from those norms.

Collegiality, Ubuntu, and civility are all important to sustaining values that lawyer-leaders hold near and dear.   Key among them is inclusion, which has gained wider public attention due to highly publicized incidents involving—and responsive campaigns against—racial or other social injustice. Inclusion is inherent in collegiality, Ubuntu, and civility. In helping to foster continued and increased inclusion, a lawyer-leader must therefore adopt and promote to those in the leader’s sphere of influence both a deep level of introspection and a willingness to rethink and alter the ways in which messages are communicated and dialogue is engaged. Those who feel welcomed by communications from and interchanges with others—even where they may disagree—are much more likely to engage and become invested in any joint enterprise. 

Just because a person can say something in the exercise of their rights to free speech, does not mean that the person should say something. And if someone chooses to say something, the way in which the communication is made can make all the difference.  Through mindful collegiality, Ubuntu, civility, and other conduct reinforcing inclusion, a lawyer-leader can motivate action and loyalty in and outside their law practice.



Sure, some individuals may more openly display the characteristics we tend to associate with leaders, but research shows that “leadership is an observable, learnable set of practices . . . it’s a process ordinary people use when they’re bringing forth the best from themselves and others.”

Grace Malone Ewell

University of Tennessee College of Law, Class of 2022

There is no such thing as a natural born leader.

I’ll say it again for the people in the back.

There is no such thing as a natural born leader.

Sure, some individuals may more openly display the characteristics we tend to associate with leaders, but research shows that “leadership is an observable, learnable set of practices . . . it’s a process ordinary people use when they’re bringing forth the best from themselves and others.” [1] If you don’t believe the experts, believe me, because I’ve experienced it.

During my 1L year here at UT Law, I took the VIA Character Strengths survey. The survey is a self-assessment that provides respondents with a ranking of 24 character strengths. Notably, everyone possesses all 24 character strengths, one of which is leadership, in varying degrees. Ergo, the best kept secret: everyone has the capacity for leadership.

A person’s top five character strengths identified in the VIA Character Strengths survey tend to remain static throughout life. During my 1L year, however, leadership was ranked 14th on my list of character strengths. Today, as a 3L, leadership is one of my signature character strengths, second only to love of learning.

So, how did this happen? Importantly, exercising leadership does not require a traditional leader role. Instead, I like to think of leadership as a muscle. The more you exercise it, the more powerful it becomes.

Prior to entering law school, I always had wanted to be a leader in the traditional sense. I ran for nearly every organizational leadership position possible: middle school student council president, high school class president, various undergraduate organization positions, and president of my undergraduate professional business fraternity (twice). What did these campaigns for leadership positions all have in common? I lost. I lost each and every one. Naturally, consistently being denied the ability to exercise that leadership muscle causes it to weaken. I became concerned that without a corresponding position of power to validate my leadership, I couldn’t be a leader at all. These failures make us believe that because others don’t see us as a leader, so we shouldn’t see ourselves that way either.

Law school and the COVID pandemic, however, thrusted me into various leadership roles, culminating in my election as the President of the Student Bar Association. Suddenly, I felt that I was given permission to view myself as a leader. This position, in turn, gave me the confidence to continue to exercise my leadership skills and look for opportunities to push myself to learn and apply principles of leadership in my everyday life. Leadership became one of my key strengths, in large part, because I worked to make it so.

What is the point of all this rambling, you might ask? I would argue that successful leaders aren’t born as such. Rather, the trait most leaders share is grit. Angela Duckworth, a renowned researcher on grit, defines the term as “sustained perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” Those of us who aren’t so called “born leaders” oftentimes are born with, or can develop, the determination and grit to become what I call “learned leaders.”

“Learned leaders” are characterized by a high tolerance of failure and the initiative to attempt to display leadership and learn from others. One of the most helpful tools I have found to develop my own leadership skills is to ask for candid feedback from peers. This exercise not only allows you to get valuable information to apply to your development, but also the opportunity to accept criticism and turn a negative review into a positive result. The news is rarely all negative, however. Garnering feedback can be a uniquely uplifting experience as you receive positive feedback of yourself through the eyes of others. Through these sessions, you may find out something unexpected and new that others see and appreciate in you. This self-awareness allows you to recognize and own those strengths and skills and harness them for use in your leadership journey.

My advice to you? Don’t count yourself out before you have even allowed yourself to enter the game. Don’t fall into the trap of believing you simply do not have what it takes to be a leader. Just as a person has the ability to strengthen a muscle through physical exercise, everyone has the ability to become a stronger leader with a little legwork (pun intended). Seek out opportunities to develop your leadership strength, believe in yourself, and the rest will follow.

[1] James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, The Leadership Challenge: How to Keep Getting Extraordinary Things Done in Organizations. 



The next time you are tempted to network with intentions besides relationship-building, take a step back and remind yourself of the important things in life. Not only will your personal life, mental health, and stress levels thank you, the promise of a fulfilling professional life may follow close behind.

Andrew York

University of Tennessee College of Law, Class of 2022

First of all, it is an incredible honor and privilege to have been asked to write a blog post for Leading as Lawyers, especially when I think about the amazing pieces from my peers that I have the opportunity to follow.

When brainstorming potential topics to discuss, I thought back on my life and my time in law school, and one thing stood out to me. When I first started law school, and throughout my time as a business (accounting and economics) major at Tennessee Technological University, I remember hearing consistently about the importance of networking.

“You never know who you are going to meet, Andrew. You never know what doors will open for you just by the power of networking.”

Upon entering law school and hearing more reminders to network, I decided to give it a shot. I really did not enjoy networking, despite relationships being one of my favorite parts of life. By the time I sat down at the end of 1L year, I realized that my most fulfilling relationships were with my friends, my family, my professors, and with my co-workers at my summer internship. These relationships did not feel like work and were something that I enjoyed strengthening, so why was networking different?

There was a nuance to networking that I brushed away for a quantity-over-quality approach. Instead of nurturing relationships, listening to others, and caring deeply, my focus was shifted to surface level contact consisting of professional questions and a “what can you do for me” attitude. This type of approach left me feeling like networking was a waste of time, with little to be gained but frustration.

What I did not realize was that I was networking with people around me constantly. But when I focused on “networking with professionals,” I was not able to build the relationships that I valued so highly. Despite my lack of awareness, my professors were correct; I did not know the importance of the people I was meeting and the doors that were opening.

During my 1L year, I was an average student. I did not make the Dean’s List or CALI a class. But I prioritized meeting other law students and learning about their lives. At the beginning of law school, I became good friends with Tyler Ring, and at the end of 1L year, I asked him what he would be doing over the summer. Tyler told me that he was going to be doing research with Professor Joan Heminway, and he told me that I should apply as well. I ended up applying, and I received the position.

During the summer of my 1L year, I was struggling with imposter syndrome, and I really felt that I was not cut out for law school. Due to my research position with Professor Heminway, I set up an appointment to discuss my future at UT Law. She encouraged me to challenge myself and use the opportunity to learn about myself. I remember her mentioning that if the difficulty of the curriculum was the reason I wanted to drop out, then I needed to push myself to finish. Her criticism was exactly what I needed, and I decided to challenge myself to continue. We set up progress meetings to help me figure out my goals and aspirations.

As a result of my mentorship and friendship with Professor Heminway, I stayed in law school. I ran for a position with Transactions: The Tennessee Journal of Business Law as Editor-in-Chief. I lost the election to Sam Rule, but instead of being disappointed, I was excited to learn from Sam’s leadership in my time on the journal. Sam nominated me to be the managing editor, and our friendship grew through planning events, stack checks, and meetings. About halfway through our time on the journal, during the process of job applications and figuring out plans after graduation, Sam received two job offers and ultimately chose one over the other. Thankfully, he told one of the firms to interview me, and they ended up offering me a job as well.

Stories like the three I mentioned above are just a few of the highlights of a law school career that has been filled with networking—networking that looks a little different than I originally imagined it to be. I did not set out in my relationship with each of the three friends mentioned in this post with the intention that they would do something for me in the long run. I became friends with Tyler because we both enjoy watching Jeopardy. I became friends with Professor Heminway because I valued her candid feedback in a sensitive situation and because she saw potential in me. I became friends with Sam because of his love for Tennessee football and basketball. Then, because of my relationship with Tyler, I met Professor Heminway. Because of my relationship with Professor Heminway, I stayed in law school and became better friends with Sam. Because of Sam, I have future opportunities to build relationships in my job at Hudson, Reed, and Christiansen after graduating and passing the bar. 

These three relationships and the connections they provided to me are things that I would not have been able to plan even if I tried. There are many other relationships and connections that I have made that have not blossomed into any type of opportunity. However, if you want my honest opinion, the relationships that were formed along the way are even better than anything that could come from those connections. Regardless of any opportunities that would have arisen from our relationship, Professor Heminway is a lifelong friend and mentor, and because of her urgings to continue in law school in Knoxville, I met my wife, Jenna; Tyler was a groomsman at my wedding; Sam and his wife Kelsey are people that Jenna and I will stay in contact with long after graduation, and his friendship is something that I value immensely.

All of this leads me to the conclusion that quantity-over-quality networking is overrated. The next time you are tempted to network with intentions besides relationship-building, step back and remind yourself of the important things in life. Not only will your personal life, mental health, and stress levels thank you, the promise of a fulfilling professional life may follow close behind.



When it comes to teaching as a form of leadership, few offer more valuable lessons than Coach Pat Summitt.

Michael J. Higdon

Professor of Law and the Associate Dean for Faculty Development

University of Tennessee College of Law

Proudly displayed in my home office is a basketball autographed by Coach Pat Summitt.  Now, this may not sound particularly noteworthy—indeed, I imagine there are many such basketballs adorning numerous homes and offices across the country.  If you knew me, however, you would know it’s quite odd that I would even own a piece of sporting memorabilia, much less count it among my most prized possessions. The reason stems from the inspiration I have gained from Coach Summitt when it comes to teaching as a form of leadership and, more specifically, the enormous impact a leader can have simply by focusing on the needs of those she serves. But before I say more about that topic, let me provide some background on how I came to appreciate this legend in the world of sport.  

Right about now, you might be thinking that I, as a faculty member at The University of Tennessee, chose Coach Summit as the topic of this guest post in an attempt to curry favor with “VolNation,” the enthusiastic (to put it mildly) fan base of The University of Tennessee where Coach Summitt spent thirty-eight years coaching the Lady Vols to achievements too numerous to count.  Well, you’ll soon change your mind when you read what I have to say next.  Namely, when I moved to Knoxville in 2009, I had never even heard of Pat Summitt.  And, no, I was not living in a cave somewhere or calling into question the extent of her celebrity outside the state of Tennessee.  I just have never been much of a sports fan and, thus, am fairly oblivious to things related to that topic.

Nonetheless, one cannot live in East Tennessee and escape the legacy—richly earned—of Coach Summitt.  Indeed, she is everywhere here—from an actual statue of her on campus to the numerous people you cross paths with who will proudly share (often with tears in their eyes) stories of interactions they once had with the woman Sports Illustrated called “a force of nature.”  Despite my relative disinterest in sports, I am a student of leadership and am fascinated by those who lead effectively. Thus, intrigued by reverence that accompanied all things related to Coach Summitt, I decided a few years ago that I wanted to learn more about her and what had inspired so much admiration among such a broad cross-section of people.  I knew she had an impressive record of success—indeed, at the time of her retirement, she had the most career wins in the history of college basketball—but I would soon learn that there was so much more to this amazing human being.  

I ended up reading a number of books, watching several documentaries, and even talking with people who had worked closely with her.  What I found was someone had a deep appreciation for leadership (which she defined as “a form of temporary authority that others grant you”) but not as a means of winning, but instead as a means of inspiring others to achieve excellence in their own right.  That, by itself, was inspiring enough. However, given that I consider myself to be first-and-foremost a teacher, what most struck me most was the way in which she saw her role as a teacher to be merely an extension of her role as leader. To illustrate, consider the following quotes—some of my favorites—from Coach Summitt: 

  • 1. “The reward of being a teacher is to watch the widening of young eyes when they experience something new.”

One of the things I love most about Coach Summitt is that, despite her considerable celebrity, she absolutely relished her role as a teacher.  And that joy came not from standing in front of these young women and basking in their worship of her (and, let’s be honest, how could they not worship her?), but from the platform her coaching role gave her to guide these young people. She saw her players not as tools that would help her secure another NCAA championship, but as people who were looking to improve themselves and needed her assistance. And assist she certainly did. Of course, the players had to put in the work, but she was there to help guide them on their journeys. As Coach Summitt herself said, “I remember how many of them fought for a better life for themselves. I just met them halfway.”

  • 2. “I’d learned the single most important principle of teaching: they don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care.” 

When I started my own career as a teacher and was worried about falling flat on my face in front of a roomful of students, a wise mentor (thank you, Professor Terrill Pollman!) told me that students would forgive almost any mistake if they truly believed you cared about them and were invested in their success.  It is clear that Coach Summitt followed a similar path.  When she sadly passed in 2016, countless former players came forward to tell stories of how Coach Summitt had gone out of her way to get to know and to care for them as wholistic human beings.  She was notoriously tough on her players, but she always made sure that they knew that she saw them and that she cared.  As Coach Summitt once said, “[m]y demandingness was based in a fundamental sense that every kid had potential greatness in her—and they understood that, because I made it clear to them.”

  • 3. “When a player makes a mistake, you always want to put them back in [the game] quickly—you don’t just berate them and sit them down with no chance for redemption.” 

For Coach Summitt, winning and losing were eclipsed by the personal journeys of the people she led, and she endeavored to never lost sight of that.  This quote, which concerns the need to give players a chance to redeem themselves, illustrates perfectly that aspect of Coach Summitt’s leadership. Inherent in that philosophy is how, the knowledge we as teachers bring to our students means nothing if it isn’t ultimately being passed on those students in a way that they can wield it for themselves.  Opportunities for redemption are key to the transfer of knowledge, and so is feedback.  Coach Summitt knew that feedback was essential, having once said that, “in the absence of feedback, people will fill in the blanks with a negative.  They will assume you don’t care about them or don’t like them.”  I imagine few people have the demands on their time that Coach Summitt likely had during her career, which makes it all the more admirable that she would take the time to ensure that her team was receiving the instruction and the feedback they needed.  

  • 4. “Winning is impermanent . . . what lingers is not the cold metal trophy but the feeling of warm exultation you shared with one another.”

I close with this quote because it makes one point abundantly and beautifully clear. Underlying Coach Summitt’s entire leadership philosophy (and, indeed, all the other quotes I identified above) is the understanding that leadership isn’t about the win; it’s about the relationships and the opportunity one has as a leader to lift others up.  Coach Summitt believed that, as teachers, the most enduring legacy we can build is through those we help and inspire along the way.  As someone who lives in East Tennessee and is regularly confronted with the reverence that continues to exist for Coach Summitt, she has certainly proven herself correct on that score.

When it comes to teaching as a form of leadership, few offer more valuable lessons than Coach Pat Summitt.  Indeed, for all that Coach Summitt has taught me, and despite my relative ignorance of all things sports-related, I now consider myself a huge fan of her work and her vast legacy.  As I continue on my own journey as a teacher, I keep that autographed basketball as a source of inspiration for the responsibilities and, more importantly, the rich leadership opportunities that come with that role.



So I challenge you to read, walk, get your hands dirty, provide joy to a senior citizen, let someone else go first in line, smile at a stranger, compliment someone, accept a compliment. Service is self-care and self-care is service.

Meaghan Denniston

University of Tennessee College of Law, Class of 2023

Burnout is not a new phenomenon. Traditionally talked about within the healthcare field, the global pandemic has raised the curtain on these feelings throughout the American workforce. Burnout is still present in healthcare but also manifests in other contexts, particularly in education and the legal profession. 

To define, burnout is a prevalent feeling of exhaustion, hopelessness, and detachment that seeps into personal areas beyond the career field. Burnout is not, generally, self-inflicted. Instead, it stems from the burdens and expectations placed on a role without the adequate balance of rest or mental recouperation required to alleviate the constant stress. Sometimes interchangeably referred to as “compassion fatigue,” burnout is really the beginning component of the overall phenomenon. Alleviating the stress that burnout places on one’s physical and mental health can stop the escalation into the overwhelming and all-encompassing condition of compassion fatigue.

A solution to alleviating the burdens and redefining the expectations of our professional and personal lives presents itself as a large task—a task much larger than one person can accomplish. But the magnitude of the task does not eliminate the benefit individual steps offer towards breaking the burnout cycle. So, what can we do?

It’s simple. Service

Now hear me out. I know some of you are thinking: “I am overwhelmed, exhausted, and depleted. How am I going to give more of myself?” And I understand that. So, let me clarify. 

Beyond the student, the attorney, the parent, the caretaker, we are people. Individual people with hobbies and interests that, believe it or not, extend beyond the professional and societal roles we hold. What if we could tap into those interests and not only help the community but also help ourselves?

In the legal profession pro bono work is a well-known method of service. Providing easier accessibility to the justice system is an important ambition within our current society. The law can appear to be a broken, disjointed, and complicated system of rules that preys on or burdens the disadvantaged. While providing free legal services to the underprivileged is important, this post is not about pro bono work. Rather, I am talking about a broader concept of service. 

Expand your horizons and your interpretation of service, especially within the legal profession. Is it not service to read to school children and broaden their awareness of their world? Is it not service to volunteer at a pet shelter, or a horse rehabilitation program, or a senior citizen center? Is it not service to help plant a community garden or clean up a park? 

These acts of service help the community. They also provide a tangible connection between the community and the legal profession. Providing a non-legal service has the potential to change the image of the legal system. A new vision on who a lawyer is—an individual that cares about the person needing assistance—can foster an enhanced level of trust in the justice system for those that need these services the most. People may be more willing to seek access to legal services if they have a positive and supportive interaction with a lawyer that is unrelated to a legal need. 

But most importantly, service humanizes our role as lawyers. When we have moments of peace, moments of giving, moments of satisfaction in our task, we heal. Beginning this healing process elevates the work we can do for our clients. When we start to heal, we can continue, or maybe restart, to thrive—within and outside our profession. But when life becomes too entrenched in a role instead of a holistic view of being, the apathy begins. And once it begins, it is an all too easy descent straight to burnout.

So, I challenge you to read, walk, get your hands dirty, provide joy to a senior citizen, let someone else go first in line, smile at a stranger, compliment someone, accept a compliment. Service is self-care and self-care is service.



As a lawyer, valuing the process illustrates a unique ability to lead in the midst of any circumstance.

Brady John

University of Tennessee College of Law, Class of 2022

Imagine pitching in the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 7 of the World Series with the score tied,  bases loaded, and two outs. You throw a 93-mph slider that is perfectly located on the corner of the plate. The batter, fooled by the pitch, swings way too early but happens to catch the ball right off the end of his bat. The ball falls just over the first baseman’s head, and the game is over. You lose the World Series. The headlines the next day will act as if you, the pitcher, failed. After all, you gave up the game-winning hit that cost your team the World Series. But such a viewpoint considers only the result of the event. This “results-oriented approach” shortsightedly neglects the process, the role played by luck, and every other possible intervening occurrence. 

Take another example—one from football. It is 4th and 1 on your opponent’s 45-yard line. You go for it and call the perfect play. But the ball carrier, well on his way to a first down, slips and falls an inch short of the first down marker. You turn the ball over and proceed to lose the game. It appears to be another failure, at least for those who only care about the results. But, again, such a viewpoint completely discredits other intervening events that helped contribute to this perceived “failure.” In reality, however, each situation involves successes that far outweigh the failure to achieve the desired results. 

The two examples above illustrate how easily people engross themselves in the outcome, rather than focusing on the process that led to that outcome. By merely flipping the results of both examples, the entire dynamic changes. In the baseball example, if the batter fails, the pitcher is a world champion. Likewise, in the football example, if the ballcarrier does not slip, the decision to go for the first down is genius. This shifting dynamic exposes the problem with a “results-oriented” approach. Pure luck was the sole intervening occurrence in both examples, yet it caused the outcome to change drastically. The process in both examples was sound. Each failure should have been a success. 

Unfortunately, our professional world often values the results over the process. Within the legal community, we tend to amplify even further the importance of results. Far too often, lawyers beat themselves up over wins and losses in the courtroom or in the negotiation of transactions. Theoretically, this emphasis on results makes sense. Results lead to promotions, fame, money, and admiration. Those with the best and highest results tend to be the most revered. A lawyer that consistently wins cases or closes deals retains more clients. In turn, more clients mean more money and more rewards. 

But a leader sees right through these temporal and often futile achievements. Leaders value the process over the results. Why? Because being a leader is about much more than money, fame, and a tally-box of cases or negotiations won and lost. Leadership involves demonstrating each and every day the commitment, belief, confidence, and maturity that individuals must possess both in success and failure. Leadership, however, does not quantify how much “winning” is necessary or expected. In fact, quite the contrary. Lawyer-leaders understand that failure (as measured by outcomes) is an expected part of the process. As demonstrated above, sometimes you just get unlucky, especially in the legal profession where we consistently deal with diverse judges, parties, and juries. Nothing is constant in the law, which makes it impossible for us to demand perfection from ourselves. But what can be constant is our approach. Trusting your process yields consistency amid an otherwise unpredictable profession. 

I want to be clear that trusting the process does not serve as a crutch for complacency. Instead, a “process-oriented” approach helps specifically in a leader’s reaction to a defeat. If a lawyer loses a case or a point in a negotiation, rather than immediately questioning her abilities and everything she had learned up until that point, by trusting the process, the lawyer need only assess the factors that may have led to the unfavorable result. Sometimes, that answer may simply be that the substantive law was the deciding factor. Other times, it could be that the lawyer slipped up, missing an opportunity to adequately address a matter in the moment. Nevertheless, the reaction is the same. Calmness over meltdown; poise over panic. One bad result never signifies a fatal flaw in talent or ability (or even advance planning). 

What makes trusting the process especially challenging in the legal field, however, is the fact that we rarely know what causes our defeats. Was it a lucky swing by the opposing counsel? Was it an unlucky slip in front of the first down marker? Or was the factfinder just having a bad day or a potential transactional partner being unreasonably obstinate? These unknowns in our profession are exactly why the process matters more than the results. Your process gives you a definite answer. In fact, in a profession with largely randomized results, the process is your one constant.  

As a lawyer, valuing the process illustrates a unique ability to lead in the midst of any circumstance. We, as humans, tend to follow those who maintain dignity and self-respect in the face of any situation. And as members of what should be one of the most prestigious and respected professions, lawyers must initiate the movement toward “process valuing” leadership in every situation, whether positive or negative. In so doing, it will then be much easier to lie down at night knowing you did everything you possibly could, even if the outcome fails to meet your expectation. But if you choose to value randomized results left largely in the hands of others or in the hands of chance, then good luck ever getting any sleep.

Be a lawyer-leader. In a world defined by results, choose to Trust Your Process.



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.