We live in unnerving times. Our nation is emerging from the worst pandemic in a century. War rages in Eastern Europe. Climate extremes are wreaking havoc. And Americans are more divided than they have been since Civil War times.

America has bounced back from challenging times before, relying on great leaders to unite the nation and overcome obstacles. But it is no exaggeration to say that great leadership is often essential to the survival of our republic.

This need for leaders bears heavily on our profession. For example, the majority of U.S. presidents have been trained as lawyers and many — including Illinois’ contributions to the presidential ranks — have actively practiced law.

But law schools generally do not teach lawyers how to lead. Indeed, they do not really even address the development of leadership skills in any intentional or meaningful way.

At the University of Illinois College of Law, we have undertaken an initiative to address this gap in legal education. The Leadership Project’s raison d’etre is simple: to teach students about core principles of leadership. The project begins in the student’s first year with lectures on general principles of leadership, the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in leadership, and leadership in non-profit and government institutions.

In each student’s 2L and 3L years, the project offers a suite of lectures, book discussions and classes, all designed to address key leadership qualities such as: teamwork; integrity; vision setting and strategy; communication; diversity, equity, and inclusion; optimism; persistence; humility; risk-taking; adaptability; collaboration; and lifelong learning.

Students who participate in a prescribed number of these activities will be invited to a half-day, facilitated leadership retreat to share ideas and build a personalized plan to guide them on their leadership journeys during their careers.

Benjamin Franklin is said to have been approached by a group of citizens asking what sort of government the delegates to the Constitutional Convention had created. His answer, reportedly, was: “A republic, if you can keep it.” Armed with these new tools, the College of Law looks forward to developing great leaders who can help us “keep it.”