Servant Leadership at OPD

A quote from Australian activist Lilla Watson on one of the attorney’s doors.

Servant leadership is characterized best by leadership that places an emphasis on followers as opposed to an organization or its leaders. At Orleans Public Defenders, servant leadership is an integral part of the office’s philosophy and practice. The attorneys, social workers and even interns at OPD embody this approach and consider it a vital part of determining “fit” for new hires. Viewing my work and the office’s mission through this lens has afforded me enormous perspective, satisfaction and understanding in my internship experience. Larry Spears, in a 2002 publication on servant leadership, identified ten characteristics of servant leaders. Among them are listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment and community building. This theory perfectly encapsulates the mindset of the public defenders and client advocates who work at OPD. As an intern in the investigative division, I am often asked to interview victims and family members who have been impacted by crime to understand their version of the narrative. This can be difficult at times especially when you are tasked with representing the alleged perpetrator, but something the application of this theory to my internship has taught me is that listening, empathy and healing are not reserved just for victims. So often in the criminal justice system, victims have such a large influence on the outcome of a case that the accused are forgotten and dehumanized. The office encourages a holistic view of our clients that allows them to talk about their own trauma and lived experiences so that we may better understand what led them to be criminally charged. This includes asking about their childhood, family history, mental health and more. Our attorneys also use conceptualization and foresight to seek the best long term outcomes for our clients. This can manifest as arguing for bond reduction, parole instead of jail time, or lifting a protective order between two parents. Stewardship and community building are the most prominent features of servant leadership employees at the public defender’s office use. All employees involved in defending our clients assume an enormous responsibility as stewards of the defendant’s liberty. Every decision made and outcome advocated for is with the goal of providing indigent people their constitutional right to representation and avoiding the life altering or life shortening consequences of incarceration. Finally, the re entry division associated with our client services department invest enormously in community building. They know that a formerly incarcerated person who is isolated from their community and support group will fail to reclaim their life. Overall, I think the theory holds up extremely well in a real world environment and that OPD specifically is very conducive to this type of leadership. The application of this theory to my internship serves as a reminder that if you lose sight of why you do this work or become self important, you fail not only your client but also the deeply embedded organizational mission.