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Willamette Law focuses on developing leaders with new course

by Sarah Bello,

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With a unique and individualized approach to legal education, Willamette Law aims to graduate students who are ready to practice law and be leaders in the field. A new seminar course, Lawyers & Leadership, taught by Dean Brian Gallini and Dean Emeritus Symeon Symeonides, welcomed a small group of students and distinguished alumni this spring.

Willamette Law is one of the few law schools in the country teaching a course like this. The course’s goal was to facilitate conversations designed to prepare students to become leaders of organizations and embark on paths of personal leadership development.

“Our students often take on leadership roles in law firms, government, nonprofit business settings, and political, social and educational organizations,” Gallini explains. “Yet many of our students graduate without studying methods of effective leadership or assessing their leadership characteristics and styles. We want to change that.”

Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the course was taught virtually over Zoom. Over 13 weeks of class, a number of alumni and guests from varying occupations joined the students to facilitate conversations about their own leadership styles as they related to distinct class topics. Discussions included relationship and culture building, grit, diversity, equity, justice, engagement, dealing with confrontation and more.

Left to Right: Dean Emeritus Symeon Symeonides, Dean Brian Gallini and Center: Justice Faith Ireland
Dean Emeritus Symenon Symeonides, Dean Brian Gallini and Justice Faith Ireland speaking at one of the classes in the Lawyers and Leadership course.

Students were encouraged to come to class with curiosity and authenticity to craft and solidify their leadership styles over the course of the semester. The course capstone project required students to complete a paper discussing each student’s individual leadership philosophies as informed by their class journey and supporting literature.

Several students commented about how the class enabled them to learn more about their classmates as they shared vulnerable, personal experiences. After finishing the class, Eric Seepe JD’21 says “it should be required of all law students.”

“The lectures and atmosphere of each class were invigorating and provided me an opportunity to truly know, and understand, many in my cohort who I had not studied with, let alone met in person due to COVID,” Seepe says. “Listening to stories of adversity, triumph and frustration is the meat of lawyering, but also, central to leading and being a fulfilled person.”

Emily Henderson JD’22 commented that the course gave her “trust-building, growth skills, [and] connection with new classmates,” alongside “the constant challenge to reframe pressure into opportunity.” In sum, she explains, “Walking away from this class, I have a better understanding of what it takes to be a leader in the legal field.”

Gallini says the class was a good reminder of the full spectrum of challenges that leaders face in everyday situations.

“By listening to and learning from leaders who graduated from Willamette Law, just like they will, students gained a greater understanding of the complex issues facing today’s managers and influencers,” Gallini says. “I am confident they are better prepared to take on leadership roles in law school and beyond.”

Distinguished guest speakers

  • Julie Vacura JD’84, Partner, Larkins Vacura Kayser
  • Whitney Boise JD’85, Partner, Boise Matthews LLP
  • Brian Ward JD’87, CEO, Trimont Real Estate Advisors and Trimont Global
  • Mark Birge JD’78, Partner Emeritus, Aldrich CPAs + Advisors LLP
  • Nancy Schierhorn JD’86, Executive Vice President & Chief Development Officer, Bristol Bay Native Corporation
  • Dean Tamara Lawson, St. Thomas University College of Law
  • Jonathan Mayes JD’87, Senior Vice President of External Affairs & Chief Diversity Officer, Albertsons Companies
  • The Hon. Joshua Kindred JD’05, Judge, U.S. District Court, District of Alaska
  • David Drinkward JD’07, President & CEO, Hoffman Construction
  • Eva Kripalani JD’86, General Counsel & Co-Founder, Office of General Counsel Network
  • Liz Large JD’96, General Counsel & Co-Founder, Office of General Counsel Network
  • Ken Peterson JD’80, Founder and CEO, Columbia Ventures
  • Julie Wolff JD/MBA’95, Chief Legal Officer & Director, Sarcos Corp
  • U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski JD’85, Senior U.S. Senator, State of Alaska
  • Justice Faith Ireland JD’69, Retired Supreme Court Justice, Washington Supreme Court

About Willamette University College of Law

Willamette University College of Law was the first law school to open in the Pacific Northwest. Building on deep historic roots, we focus with pride on educating the next generation of problem-solving lawyers and leaders. Our location in Salem, Oregon, directly across the street from the Oregon State Capitol and Supreme Court, cannot be matched in the region. Our thought-leading scholars advance and promote our shared responsibility to make a difference in society, placing justice, fairness, and equality at the heart of everything we do.

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