Julia Huston: Leaders Motivate People to Work for Something Larger than Themselves

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Huston, JuliaJulia Huston is a partner at Foley Hoag LLP, where she chairs the firm’s Trademark, Copyright & Unfair Competition practice group, and co-chairs the Advertising and Marketing practice group. Her practice includes litigation, counseling and strategy in the areas of trademarks, copyrights, patents, Internet commerce, domain name piracy, false advertising, and unfair competition. At the BBA, Julia is President-Elect. She is also a member of the Executive Committee and Co-Chair of the BBA/BBF Joint Partnership Committee. In addition, she has served as Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary, Chair of the Amicus Committee, Co-Chair of the Delivery of Legal Services Section, Co-Chair of the Litigation Section, and Co-Chair of the Intellectual Property Litigation Committee. A longtime supporter of civil legal services for the poor, Julia previously served as Chair of the Equal Justice Coalition, President of Greater Boston Legal Services, and President of the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts. Julia is a BBF Trustee and a member of the BBF Community Projects Committee.

1.     As someone who has been the president of two organizations (WBA & GBLS), what leadership lessons did you learn that can be applied to the BBA?

There are two important lessons I’ve learned that I can apply to the BBA. The first, and most crucial, is the importance of building coalitions and identifying strong leaders to lead those coalitions. It is much more effective to approach a problem or situation as a group, rather than attempt to effect meaningful change as an individual. Building coalitions is an incredibly effective way to motivate passionate people to work for something larger than their own interests. Bar associations provide the unique opportunity to build coalitions among attorneys and others parties, like judges and legal services representatives, who come from different backgrounds and can lend different perspectives.

The second is how to lead an organization so that it can react quickly in times of crisis or change. When I became president of Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), IOLTA funding had just started its precipitous decline. GBLS was plunged into a crisis that lasted the entire term of my presidency, and still continues because that funding has not been restored. We decided to undertake aggressive fundraising measures while making the necessary cuts to the program in a thoughtful and strategic manner in close collaboration with the GBLS legal aid attorneys – a group of highly talented people who are the lifeblood of the organization. While it was challenging, I was inspired by BBA member Lisa Wood, who was chairing the IOLTA Committee during this time. When someone lamented that it was a terrible time to be on the IOLTA Committee, Lisa responded by stating that it was actually the best time to be on the Committee because that is when people could help the most. An important part of leadership is being able to mobilize in times of crisis or change.

These lessons fit in well with what makes the BBA unique and allows it to continue to grow. A lot of the success of the BBA has to do with the relationships people build here. The BBA is able to identify priorities and the people who will get projects done, as well as provide the resources that they need to succeed, and the results are obvious. The BBA pays attention to changes in the legal community as they are happening and develops programs in response – for example, to support new lawyers and to provide the kinds of training and mentorship experiences that have become scarce in today’s economy. This kind of attention to systemic changes and the willingness to adapt its priorities and goals is what makes the BBA able to respond to the rapidly changing legal profession. I very much hope to continue in that tradition.

2.     How can a leader ensure that their team stays on track and engaged with the project or task at hand?

Every project or task, no matter how large or small, ties into an organization’s larger vision.  The leader’s job is twofold:  forming an effective group and helping the group see the connection between the task and the vision. As is the case with coalition building, it is important to choose people who are experienced with an issue and who also bring different perspectives to bear. This is something at which the BBA excels. For example, on Task Forces you will always see people on both sides of the issue represented. The most common example would be government prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers, but there are countless others. The combination of people from different walks of life who are willing to put aside their own self-interest in pursuit of a larger goal enhances the BBA Task Forces’ authority and legitimacy.

I have been fortunate to be able to work with extremely effective people. In the process, I have learned how to lead at the vision level, and I look forward to doing that at the BBA.

3.     What is one skill or facet that you think almost every leader can improve upon?

Leaders tend to focus on their strengths, as they should, but I think it is also important to know your own weaknesses. In other words, being a better leader doesn’t mean you become an expert at everything, it means learning to be an expert at identifying what you need help with. Organizations are made up of lots of people, not just the leader. In an organization like the BBA, where we have a very strong team and everyone in the BBA leadership has an important role to play, I think leadership is more like the coalition building I mentioned earlier: choosing the right people with the right experience, and effectively focusing the group on the organization’s goals.

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