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ABA leadership profile: John Mitchell, Law Practice Division

John Mitchell

Name: John “The Purple Coach” Mitchell

Hometown: Chicago

Position in Law Practice Division:  Chair

Current Employer: KM Advisors, LLC

Practice Areas:  I do not practice law and haven’t since 1995.  I own a boutique company that helps lawyers learn the many skills necessary to be successful owners of their firms or to be successful leaders in the corporate world.  My personal practice is primarily focused on supporting leadership development and business development.  I started practicing law in the litigation department of the firm that ultimately started the merger mania that created what is now known as DLA Piper.  I did a lot of consumer class action defense work for large financial institutions and a lot of litigation work for the firm’s large real estate developer clients.  Of course, I also did all sorts of other types of commercial litigation.

How has your involvement in the Law Practice Division shaped your legal career?

My involvement in the Law Practice Division has shaped my career in many significant ways.  The reason I joined the Division was to get a chance to experiment with my own leadership development in a place full of smart, committed people.  I have had a wonderful opportunity to learn a lot (especially from my mistakes) about leadership development and interpersonal relationships in an environment that does not include many of my clients.  My company’s client base tends toward large regional and global firms and boutiques.  The larger firms are not typically present in the Division and I rarely run into leaders from the boutiques.  This means that when I experiment and do not succeed I can learn valuable lessons outside of the view of my clients.  As a result, I’m much more willing to stretch myself and take risks.

There are at least two other significant ways the Division has impacted my career.  First, I have learned so much about so many topics that touch our profession during my time in the Division.  We have experts on any and every topic imaginable.  From what does the future of the profession look like to compensation models to marketing and business development to everything technology – I constantly get exposed to the latest developments and thinking.  Second, I have work on projects with people I have met in the Division and I have referred work to others in the Division based on their expertise.  My network of experts and potential collaborators has grown extensively since I joined the Division.

What is your favorite thing about your practice area?

My favorite part of working with leaders is that each one is different and each has something unique to teach me.  I’m fortunate to have a job where I am constantly paid to learn new things and work with intelligent and hardworking people who strive to become even more effective leaders.  My days are never boring and no two days seem alike.

What does leadership in the law mean to you?

Leadership means a lot of things to me in any context.  I think of leadership as a journey, a learning experience rather than as a title or destination.  There are people with big titles who don’t lead and there are people quietly living their lives who are great leaders.  Leadership is about articulating a desired future state and influencing people to pull together to make that desired state a reality.  Leaders create inclusive environments based on strong relationships.

Leadership has a heightened significance to me in the legal profession because of the way our profession impacts everything from basic human rights to access to opportunities to literally pursue happiness to ensuring that the rule of law and not the rule of man applies in our society.

Knowing what you know now, what piece of advice would you give to current law students?

One of the problems in our profession is that most lawyers think they are the smartest person in the room and act like it.  It almost never matters if you are the smartest person in any room.  Similarly, no matter how good you get at some aspect of practicing law, there are at least 1,000 other lawyers who do what you do and many clients will never be able to determine which lawyer is truly the best technician in a particular specialty.  That’s why clients don’t hire someone who is just a great technician for the major challenges and opportunities that will personally affect the client.  Clients hire lawyers who make them feel comfortable, who make it possible for them to take a vacation or tend to a sick child or to simply sleep at night and not worry about anything else.

All lawyers need to be technically competent to be successful.  However, law students who focus on deepening their interpersonal skills and developing (and most importantly, deepening) relationships will be eating the lunch of the lawyers focused on their narrow and deep expertise.

More from John Mitchell

In this Legal Talk Network podcast, John talks with The Digital Edge hosts Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway about the difference between diversity and inclusion, diversity fatigue, and factors within the industry that might hinder the advancement of diverse lawyers.

– Lindsay Richardson , Law Practice Division Liaison

ABA Law Student Division The Law Student Division empowers law student by providing them with meaningful connections to practicing professionals, job resources, relevant programming, and practical skills competitions. We represent the law student community by advocating for policies that improve legal education, champion diversity, and strengthen public service.