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Doing Justice

Cross-disciplinary team of Fletcher professors tapped to teach international leadership skills to America’s state judiciaries.
At Boston's John Adams Courthouse: More than 40 state court chief justices, judges, and court executives representing 21 states, stand with former Fletcher School Dean and current Henry J. Braker Professor of Law at Fletcher Jeswald Salacuse during the inaugural Judicial Branch Leadership Academy, hosted by the National Center for State Courts.

What can a graduate school of international affairs teach local judges? Quite a lot, it turns out.

This fall, three professors from The Fletcher School held academic court at the first-ever Judicial Leadership Academy, a new initiative by the State Justice Institute and National Center for State Courts that brought 40 judges from 22 states to Boston to practice and hone their leadership skills.

Henry J. Braker Professor of Law and former Dean of The Fletcher School Jeswald Salacuse designed and led the program, which included sessions headed by Professor of Management Alnoor Ebrahim and Professor of Practice of International Conflict Management Eileen Babbitt in a cross-disciplinary effort to apply the core tenets of international leadership to America’s domestic court systems.

“It says a lot about the faculty — this opportunity developed because of Professor Jes Salacuse and the resonance of his work beyond the boundaries of international relations,” Babbitt said. “The rule of law is relevant everywhere, and of course we in the U.S. get involved everywhere in the domestic institutions of other countries.  Why should we not do the same domestically?  In the process, we, here at Fletcher, learn a lot about institutional conflict and leadership, which we can bring back into our teaching.  It was especially enlightening for those of us not in the legal profession, and an interesting challenge to engage with a new constituency.”

The Fletcher School was well positioned to meet that challenge, Ebrahim said, because of its distinct strengths as an institution.

“We’re pretty uniquely positioned to provide that content because we’re interdisciplinary,” Ebrahim said. “And our task as a school is to educate global leaders.”

Prof. Jes Salacuse speaks at the inaugural Judicial Branch Leadership Academy in Boston.

The Academy, which is the brainchild of President of the NCSC Mary McQueen, drew its structure from Salacuse’s 2006 book, “Leading Leaders: How to Manage Smart, Talented, Rich and Powerful People.”

The three-day initiative, held at the John Adams Courthouse that houses Massachusetts’s own Supreme Court, focused on skill building in seven key areas identified in that book: direction, integration, mediation, education, motivation, representation, and trust creation.

Those leadership sinews made it possible to pull the very concepts taught in classes at The Fletcher School into the domestic, judicial arena.

“There has to be some connecting tissue, some line of sight that connects them,” Ebrahim said. “In this case, it was Jes [Salacuse’s] book.”

Judges, Salacuse said, aren’t so different from CEO’s of transnational corporations or NGOs, politicians, or heads of government departments. All good leaders must find ways to build consensus through mentorship, motivations, and leadership, he said. Those are skills that The Fletcher School excels at teaching.“The way we teach negotiation and conflict resolution here at Fletcher is applicable in any institutional setting,” Babbitt said. “Our premise is that conflict resolution, at its heart, is about understanding the dynamics of decision-making and relationship-building between individuals and groups, wherever they occur.”

Judges, be they state administrators or U.S. Supreme Court Justices, diverge from CEO’s and heads of state, however, in their lack of formal power. As leaders, judges have an even tougher job, Salacuse said, because they don’t have the power to discipline, hire, or fire their colleagues in the court.

“You really have no practical authority,” Ebrahim said. “What is similar [to other leadership roles] is that one of their fundamental tasks is getting a group to work together. And even though they don’t have formal authority, they have great informal authority. The key in the task of judicial leadership is to develop other people and motivate them to get the work of the court done.”

Perhaps the best example of that kind of leadership was Chief Justice John Marshall, the United States’ fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Salacuse said. Marshall understood the precariousness of the fledgling American political system and the necessity of keeping its top court unified to preserve political balance.

Marshall’s court decided more than 1,000 cases, many of them unanimously.

“He was very effective in telling [his fellow Justices], ‘Look, if we’re going to have a voice, we need to be united,” Salacuse said. “It’s a question of leadership.”

Fletcher Prof. Jes Salacuse and NCSC President Mary McQueen

That history is a far cry from the U.S. Supreme Court of today, which Salacuse hinted might be missing effective leadership in recent decades given the widening political fault lines exemplified by its many split decisions.

But at the state level, at least—“where the individual is most likely to encounter the judiciary,” Salacuse said—the Judicial Leadership Academy provided plenty of reasons for optimism.

Whether in exercises helping their colleagues solve problems specific to their own state courts and roles, or in simulations about how to mentor up-and-coming leaders, Salacuse said the participants at the Judicial Leadership Academy learned from each other as much as they learned from their professors.

“These were experienced people; they weren’t novices,” Salacuse said. “This is a very diverse community, and the judiciary is also very diverse. And I heard them constantly talking about the need to do justice … [with] all of the divisions you have the Supreme Court, I didn’t hear any of that.”

It was, then, a successful first run at what McQueen anticipates will be annual event that can bolster the leadership skills of state courts across America.

“I view the inaugural Leadership Academy as a critical step toward what the National Center [for State Courts] can contribute to the governance needs of the state court community,” McQueen said. “The faculty members, and especially Dean Salacuse, provided the Academy with its structure and content. What made the learning process dynamic and effective, however, was the participants’ enthusiastic and insightful responses to what was presented.”

Each member of The Fletcher School faculty involved said they too were impressed with this first run and expressed hope that the partnership will continue through the current era of challenges to American political and legal institutions.

“In a time in our country and the world when the rule of law is being sorely tested, it is a great privilege to help support legal institutions that form the backbone of democracy,” Babbitt said.

For more information: Learn about the LL.M. program at The Fletcher School, Prof. Jes Salacuse's course on "Negotiating International Leadership," Prof. Alnoor Ebrahim's course on "Leadership: Building Teams, Organizations, & Shaping Your Path," and Prof. Eileen Babbitt's courses on negotiation, mediation, and conflict management (theory and practice). For more about customized executive education programs at Fletcher, click here