Students collaborate and network at annual Leadership Retreat

November 1, 2007Duke Law News

More than 40 students attended the 2007 Duke Law Leadership Retreat in October to refine their communication skills, expand their professional networks, and enjoy the autumn scenery of West Virginia.

Sponsored by the Office of Student Affairs and the law firm of White & Case, the yearly retreat is a weekend of leadership development and community building programs that emphasize the blueprint principles. Current and aspiring student leaders, including representatives from student organizations and journals as well as a number of first-year students, participated in workshops, braved a white water rafting trip down the scenic New River, and bonded with classmates, Duke Law administrators, and White & Case lawyers and staff.

The retreat’s theme was “High Performance Teams and the Generational Divide,” which focused on understanding generational differences and team dynamics to improve communication in diverse settings. Workshops presented by ImprovEdge, a New York City training firm, used techniques from improvisational theater to discuss how the differences among the four primary generations in the workforce today -- Veterans, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Nexter Generation -- challenge as well as encourage collaboration.

Other sessions required participants to hone skills in teamwork and spontaneity, emphasizing the importance of understanding various leadership styles, including one’s own, and reacting effectively to change. Tying in the theme of inter-generational communication, the workshops focused on the skills needed to be a productive leader and team player, particularly in a diverse and global workforce.

A final case study exercise, created by White & Case, tested students’ ability to work as a group to develop persuasive arguments. The activity emphasized individual leadership styles. “It is interesting and valuable to see how other people approach the same problem with different methods and to evaluate my own against them,” said 1L Jill Harrison.

Students also found time to enjoy an afternoon of rafting on the New River and an evening bonfire, complete with tall-tales performed by Adam Booth, a native West Virginian and champion storyteller and liar. His performance provided another lesson in communication skills, demonstrating how repetition and the use of visual description can be effective tools for engaging an audience.

Launched in 2002, the Duke Law Leadership retreat has developed into a weekend-long trip and a centerpiece of the school’s leadership curriculum. With the generous sponsorship of White & Case, the retreat has expanded to include renowned speakers and facilitators from around the country. The retreat is open to representatives from student organizations and journals, and 1L students who are nominated by a student leader. Each year, the theme focuses on a specific topic related to communication and leadership; past topics have included “what it means to be a professional”, “delegation”, “communication styles”, and “effective public speaking.”

“I may be accused of saying it every year, but this year's retreat was the best ever,” said Jill Miller, associate dean for student affairs. “We are proud that the retreat has evolved from a local overnight event for a limited number of upper-class students to a ‘true’ retreat--a meaningful, weekend-long get-away that brings 1Ls, 2Ls, 3Ls, and LLMs together to talk about important issues and to hone their communications and leadership abilities. Thanks to the support of Dean [David] Levi and White & Case, we are confident the retreat will grow stronger every year.”
Duke Law students and staff prepared for a day of rafting on the New River.