Social justice lawyers urged to step up, lead change


The Lawyer as Leader highlights activist attorneys

Artika Tyner
Artika Tyner


A rather uncharitable, age-old joke goes, “What do you call 1,000 lawyers at the bottom of the sea?” The punchline: “A good start.” Fortunately, you can’t prove that by Dr. Artika Tyner (, attorney at law and author of The Lawyer as Leader: How to Plant People and Grow Justice (ABA Book Publishing). Tyner, in fact, is wholly committed to applying her profession to benefit society at large, the disenfranchised in specific.

Book cover courtesy of
Book cover courtesy of

Atypical as it may be of someone in her line of work, Dr. Tyner points out in an email interview, “History has shown us that lawyers have been at the forefront of social change movements. Whether it be Nelson Mandela, who fought to dismantle the racial caste system of apartheid, Mohandas Gandhi, who admonishes us to be the change we wish to see in the world, or Marian Wright Edelman, who has committed her life’s work to standing up for children and ensuring that no child is left behind.”

It so happens Edelman, renowned icon of several generations, provides the foreword to The Lawyer as Leader, extolling, The Lawyer as Leader offers a new definition of leadership focused on collective empowerment and a moral imperative to serve.”

A natural question is why would lawyers, not a group generally known for altruism, be interested in social justice? Tyner replies, “The answer for me is simple: Our local communities and the global community are waiting. I believe lawyers play a key role in impacting what Dr. King described as the arc of the moral universe.

“Once again,” “says Edelman, “this is a call to leadership for lawyers — a moral imperative to make a difference. President Barak Obama challenges each of us to play an active role in leading change when he stated: ‘The arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but it does not bend on its own.’”

Tyner’s background certainly bears her out. An educator, author, public speaker and justice advocate, she is the founding CEO of Planting People, Growing Justice Leadership Institute, which affords leadership development training and career coaching. She has developed leadership educational materials for K-12 students, college and graduate students, faith communities and nonprofits.

Dr. Tyner also conducts classes in leadership, coursework on ethics, critical reflection, and organizational development. Her research focuses on diversity and inclusion, community development and civil rights, having presented exacting and exhaustive research as well as conducting leadership training programs nationally and internationally. At the University of St. Thomas College of Education, Leadership & Counseling, Artika Renee Tyner, Ed.D., M.P.P., J.D. is a professor of policy and leadership.

Suffice to say her going against the grain is a commitment borne of uncompromising conviction. Excerpted from The Lawyer as Leader, “The Lawyer’s Call: The New Social Justice Lawyer” reads, “The three core pillars are (1) social justice lawyering; (2) leadership; and (3) public policy advocacy.” She goes on to note, “The book will showcase….lawyers in order to provide key insights [on using] the three pillars as tools to effect social change.”

The showcased professionals are Bonnie Allen of the Mississippi Center for Justice, Edgar Cahn of TimeBanks USA, Nekima Levy-Pounds of the Community Justice Project, and University of Minnesota luminary john a. powell, founder of the Institute on Race and Poverty. “These lawyers embody the qualities of new social justice lawyers as transformative leaders, practitioner-scholars, community advocates and policy entrepreneurs,” says Tyner. They have employed their legal training for creating new inroads on the pathway to justice.”

What about Tyner’s ongoing work in leadership development and community engagement has she found most rewarding? “The most rewarding part is empowering everyday people to lead social change. In the spring of 2015, I launched the Leadership for Social Justice Project with the goal in mind of building a global leadership community. This Project has challenged 10,000 people to discover the leader within, take a stand for justice, and serve in community.

“It also serves as an indispensable tool for bringing leaders together to share their passion for social justice and build strategic partnerships,” she continues. “It has been rewarding to see students, parents, educators and community members take on this challenge. This compelling call to action has reached audiences across the globe from Zhengzhou, China to Arusha, Tanzania.”

No less a source than Kirkus Reviews says of The Lawyer as Leader: How to Plant People and Grow Justice, “For anyone entering the world of law, this is a crucial read that offers a powerful message about effecting positive social change.”

Dr. Deb Lindh, founding president of Mindful Effect, states, “[This] is a very powerful read — inspiring, empowering, motivating, immediately useful and applicable across business sectors and professions. This book addresses what leaders today and in the future can employ to develop others as well as develop him/her self. A must-read for anyone passionate about promoting social change.”

Ultimately, Artika Tyner, who also wrote The Leader’s Journey: A Guide to Discovering the Leader Within (ABA Books), makes a strong case for lawyers having better uses than shark food.


Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.