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VOL. 124 | NO. 188 | Thursday, September 24, 2009


Retreat Designed To Spur Civility Among Lawyers

By Rebekah Hearn

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FUN WITH COLORS: Attorney Justin Mitchell and assistant district attorney Kate Edmands, members of the 2009-2010 Memphis Bar Association Leadership Forum class, participate in the Milestone Exercise at the Forum’s recent retreat. -- PHOTO BY LESIA BEACH/MEMPHIS BAR ASSOCIATION

The Memphis Bar Association’s Leadership Forum held its kickoff retreat Friday at the Lichterman Nature Center. The forum had filled all of its 25 spaces during its application period in August, and provided a place for the 2009-2010 class to meet and take part in social projects.

Kathy Story, the consultant for the retreat, said interaction was one of the forum’s goals. Participating attorneys also are split into small groups, which meet throughout the year to form a project. Group projects will be presented in May before graduation.

The forum provides a place for attorneys in their third to eighth year of practice a way to get to know one another and also to foster civility.

‘Powerful’ messages

Story, who has helped other bar associations put together similar programs, said she thought the retreat was successful.

“The attorneys were very engaged in the leadership material and exercises, which focused on self-awareness,” Story said.

One of them was the Milestone Exercise, in which attorneys were invited to choose a point in their lives – birth, graduation, their first jobs – and map out the effects leadership has had on them.

Justin Mitchell of Thomason Hendrix Harvey Johnson & Mitchell PLLC said this exercise was his favorite.

“It was that exercise of taking a look at your own life and assessing those significant times where leadership – not only your own but others’ – made an impact on you, and you’ve felt you’ve made an impact on others, and that was sort of a way to understand your life story and moving forward into the trajectory of leadership that you were hoping to create, consciously, for the future,” Mitchell said. “I hadn’t anticipated that; I had heard generalities about the program, but I didn’t know any of the specifics, but I thought it was a pretty powerful one.”

Ahaski Baptist of Wyatt Tarrant & Combs LLP, a lawyer in her third year of practice, said she already feels she knows some of the forum participants better.

“I most certainly got to know some of them better; some more than others when we broke off into smaller groups,” Baptist said. “Then throughout the year, we also have small groups we’ll meet with, and I’m sure I’ll get closer to those individuals.

“But just spending the whole day in a room, it naturally brings you closer together.”

Baptist also said her favorite part of the retreat was that it was interactive.

“It wasn’t just you sitting and listening to a speaker, but it was you sitting and participating and actually being a part of it,” she said.

From the consultant’s view, the materials and mini-projects involved the lawyers.

“The attorneys were very engaged in the leadership material and exercises, which focused on self-awareness. They actively participated in discussions in pairs, small groups, and the large group, and had important insights and experiences to share,” Story said.

Some of the other exercises included “Level Playing Field,” an exercise about privilege, and “Centered Leadership.”

Leaving a mark

Mitchell, who left law school to work on U.S. Rep. Lamar Alexander’s first campaign and later returned, said he found out about the Leadership Forum through word of mouth.

“I’ve been aware of it for the past couple of years and I know some of the people involved, and everybody that I’ve talked to has had positive things to say about it – that it’s expanded their awareness not only of issues which are obvious and open in the broader Memphis community, but some of the impact and echoes that those issues might still have within the professional community,” Mitchell said, emphasizing that awareness leads to “thinking about ways that we can implement specific initiatives to make the city a better place.”

Baptist said several of her co-workers at Wyatt Tarrant had gone through the program and “they had nothing but good things to say about it.”

“As a young lawyer, I heard about the Leadership Forum and not only does it provide CLE (continuing legal education) credit, but the opportunity to develop as a young lawyer. That’s why I was interested,” Baptist said.

This year’s participants spanned the legal spectrum, including solo practitioners, attorneys in medium- and large-sized firms, assistant district attorneys and in-house counsel.

Getting to know one another – particularly for DAs or in-house attorneys who don’t work day-to-day in a firm with other lawyers – also helps foster civility in the profession. As Baptist said, when you’re in a room with a group of people for a whole day, you get to know them pretty well.

“I think (Story) did a great job of having us get to know each other better in a non-stilted but truly meaningful way so that I feel like I know each of them as people much better than I did before, and in fact a lot better than I know some people I have had peripheral contact with for much longer,” Mitchell said, citing a quote he heard at the retreat: “You can’t disrespect someone once you’ve heard their story.”

Being an active listener and participant in someone else’s story helps people achieve the second phase of leadership, Mitchell said.

“You have to develop your own internal leader, and then the secondary level is amongst your peer group, and then once you’ve been able to do that, then you have a broader perception of the needs of the community, and you can take that out into the larger forum,” he said.

Although the attorneys were split into their smaller groups during the retreat, most of them haven’t decided what their final project will be.

Baptist said her group will be meeting soon. Mitchell said his group has agreed to get together soon, and the attorneys involved want to do something that will make a lasting impression, as opposed to a simple presentation or speech.

“Our group has already expressed a pretty strong desire to put something in place pretty soon, so that we’re not just doing a presentation, like a collage or a science fair project, but … so that we can start working with people so we can help lead by example (and) create something that helps them get to where they want to go,” Mitchell said. “It’ll probably have something to do with education.”

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