A Book Review of Dr. Artika Tyner’s “The Lawyer as Leader: How to Plant People and Grow Justice”

It Takes A Village to Create Justice. 

March 7, 2015 marked the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama that subsequently led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.  In the not-so-distant backdrop, the debate about law enforcement and racial profiling continues as the U.S. wealth gap lingers at a record high level.  The mass call for social justice reform has, literally, taken to the streets at a fever pitch in recent months.

Dr. Artika Tyner’s rally for legal professionals to lead this call for change in “The Lawyer as Leader:  How to Plant People and Grow Social Justice” is very timely for those legal professionals who are unsure about the role they can play in making a difference in the social justice reform arena.  Dr. Tyner is currently a public policy and leadership professor at the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) and former clinical professor with the Community Justice Project at the University of St. Thomas Law.  The Community Justice Project focuses on forming collaborative partnerships with community stakeholders and problem solving in distressed communities.  Dr. Tyner draws inspiration from the Chinese proverb: “If your vision is for a year, plant wheat. If your vision is for ten years, plant trees. If your vision is for a lifetime, plant people.”  Essentially, Tyner posits that legal professionals can grow sustainable social justice reform (i.e. access to justice and social equality for the disenfranchised) through her “new social justice lawyering” platform.

Lawyers, typically seen as conventional leaders, can cultivate new leaders from the ranks of everyday citizens using the gardening tools or “pillars of new social justice lawyering”:  (1) the social justice lawyering methodology needed to disassemble the oppressive community system and create access to equitable justice; (2) community-client empowerment through servant and collaborative leadership and (3) public policy advocacy asserted by active “policy entrepreneurs” who understand the limitations of the law in creating transformative solutions.

What is refreshing about “The Lawyer as Leader” is how an inspired legal professional can serve as a more effective social activist at the grassroots level.  A new social justice lawyer must partner with and groom motivated community members who demonstrate leadership potential; and, ultimately, the community client has active input in creating solutions that will dictate its destiny, as opposed to the more traditional reliance on the lawyer as the omniscient problem solver who is expected to retain  sole control of solving the community’s problem.  Legal eagles are encouraged to lead through “partnership” so that the attainability and sustainability of major social/legal change is not dependent a single individual.

The book’s seven chapters walk the reader through the evolution of social justice lawyering and provide an academic analysis of the aforementioned three pillars.  Dr. Tyner breathes life into the three pillars of social justice lawyering by profiling the accomplishments of four respected legal scholars and social activists:  Professor Bonnie Allen (Mississippi Center for Justice), Dr. Edgar Cahn (Timebanks USA), Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds (Community Justice Project) and Professor john a. powell (formerly of the Kirwan Institute and founder of the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota).  I appreciate that Tyner ends each chapter with a set of reflective questions, which allows the reader to re-connect with the book’s premise—how can one, as a legal professional, feel encouraged to inspire others and collectively facilitate long-lasting, societal change.

We know that Rome was not built in one day-- and it was certainly not built by one person.  Law students and lawyers can pool their individual knowledge, resources and practical skills with similarly-motivated non-lawyers to level the playing field when it comes to social justice reform.  Before reading this book, I never considered myself a leader or a useful resource in the access to justice movement because of my business litigation background and my reliance on the traditional definition of leadership.  However, this book has provided me with some motivation and, hopefully, will similarly inspire others that the everyday person has more to offer than s/he think as it relates to making a difference and leadership.

Great leaders don’t just lead or inspire, they grow the next crop of great leaders!


Product Details:

Author: Dr. Artika R. Tyner  http://artikatyner.com   

Publisher: American Bar Association Book Publishing
Release Date:  Currently available as e-book, 238 pages, via American Bar Association website; Amazon Release Date: Paperback, 238 pages, July, 2015

ISBN-10: 1627226648
ISBN-13: 978-1627226646

Disclaimer: Ms. JD received a copy of this book from the author solely for purposes of performing the aforementioned book review.


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