The Leadership Fellows Program at Seton Hall Law provides a unique opportunity for law students to cultivate essential leadership skills through experiential learning, teaching, engaging with select readings, participating in the Leadership Speaks series, and planning and executing a dynamic leadership project. Here is how this year's Leadership Fellows Amy Eng ('20) and Deidre Cooney ('20) describe their experiences in the program:
On the first day of orientation, Dean Boozang approached the podium and announced an obvious, but difficult truth to grasp: “Ninety-percent of you in this room will not be in the top ten-percent of your class.” As future lawyers, we know the profound impact grades can have and can get caught in the trap of constantly checking and calculating GPA. Yet it is a sad and undeniable truth of law school: not everyone can be top of the class. But this in no way means that the other ninety-percent of the class has no hope of success. In Professor Paula Franzese’s Leadership Fellows Program and its attendant Leadership, Ethics and Decision-Making class, students learn that grades are only one aspect of a multidimensional you.
In the Leadership Fellows Program we have learned and come to experience that whether you’re top of the class or dead last, it’s what you do beyond your transcript that truly matters—whether you persevere in the face of failure, whether you’ve got grit. It is your work ethic, your character and integrity, your capacity to learn from mistakes rather than be cowered by them and your resolve to rise up, again and again to help to be the change you want to see in the world.
Grit is resilience. Grit is the ability to see long-term goals and not get caught in the web of short-term obstacles. Grit is striving for excellence and not perfection. Grit is something that is developed and not innate. In class, Leadership Fellows cultivate a culture of grit and are taught important lessons about leadership such as communication, integrity, and hard work along the way. Leadership Fellows are then empowered to take those lessons and implement leadership projects in the communities surrounding Seton Hall Law.
The projects are varied. One group of Leadership Fellows is working on facilitating reentry into the work force and housing market for those previously involved with the criminal justice system. Another has implemented a program at a Jersey City high school with the goal of teaching high school students valuable lessons about resilience, building self-esteem, leadership, and career paths. Another is teaching law-related education classes at a Newark high school. Another has developed a guidebook on the nuts and bolts of family law. Another is excited for the forthcoming launch of their website that helps first-generation law students navigate the ups and downs of law school. Previous classes of Leadership Fellows have initiated support projects on behalf of Newark's homeless and displaced, veterans, people with disabilities, and students with learning differences. Another worked to shine a light on the tragedy of human trafficking. Each project has left an indelible and positive imprint.
To implement these service-based projects, Leadership Fellows face and address obstacles, constantly adapt to new challenges, and relish in the successes of their work and their colleagues. Most importantly, however, Leadership Fellows come to realize that with every failure comes an opportunity for growth and every success is the outgrowth of resilience when met with failure. Leadership Fellows are empowered to be gritty, which propels them forward as they begin their careers.
Grit is required to be a successful lawyer:
Many times, lawyers hear ‘no,’ and it takes resolve to bounce back and keep going to the next opportunity. Many law school graduates have overcome tremendous adversity in their life [sic] to move beyond their humble beginnings. They heard ‘no’ a lot despite their hard work and intelligence. Their life experiences make them well positioned to be potential rain makers [sic] because they had to overcome many obstacles to succeed as law school graduates . . . The soft skills required to be a rainmaker are sometimes diametrically opposed to the skill sets of those who are academics--succeeding beyond your grades is grit.
The ability to be gritty, to persevere despite hard times, and to turn failure into success while remaining compassionate and engaged are hallmarks of the Leadership Fellows Program. The Leadership Fellows aspire to these ideals, and their hard work, passion, and commitment to serve shines through. The lessons learned from this program are lessons that every law student should learn, and the Leadership Fellows will carry them forever as they continue their legal journeys.
Pictured at top from left to right: Dianna Santiago, Jeanelly Nunez, Emerald Sheay, Dr. Frederick D. Williams (acting Principal of William L. Dickinson High School), Amy Eng, Yudiana Gonzalez.
 Jill Backer, How ‘Grit’ Skills Breed Success for Lawyers, Thomas Reuters (Mar. 18, 2018), http://www.legalexecutiveinstitute.com/grit-skills-breed-lawyer-success/.